Jeshurun grew fat and kicked;
filled with food, they became heavy and sleek.
They abandoned the God who made them
and rejected the Rock their Savior. — Deuteronomy 32:15
The Torah portion for this week is Ha’azinu, which means “listen,” from Deuteronomy 32:1–52, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 22:1–51.
Kur habarzel is the Hebrew term for a smelting furnace used to purify iron. It’s also the term used by the Jewish sages in reference to Egypt, the place where the children of Israel were enslaved and then transformed into a nation. Like the term “trial by fire,” kur habarzel describes a situation where a person goes through much suffering, but comes out stronger on the other end. Like the smelting furnace that purifies iron, our trials purify our souls, forging us into better people and molding us into the image of God through Whom we were created.
But does it have to be that way? Is suffering the only path toward holiness and perfection?
This week’s Torah reading gives us invaluable insight into human nature which will answer our question. Moses tells the Israelites: “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, they became heavy . . . They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior.” Moses was warning the Israelites that once they became settled and prosperous in the good land that God would bring them to, most likely, they would abandon God.
This is human nature. When we are lacking, we turn to God to fill us. However, when we have everything, we forget God. After all, who needs God when the stomach is filled by the plentiful food in the fridge, when security is found in a bank account, and love is found in a wonderful spouse and kids?
Unfortunately, all too often we find out just how much we need God when life takes a sudden turn and we are needy once again. As Moses continued, he explained to the Israelites that once they abandon God, God would hide His face from them. They would be ravaged by enemies, kicked out of their land, and suffer greatly at the hands of cruel nations. They would endure another kur habarzel, and only afterward, emerge pure and refined.
Is there another way? Is this really our human destiny?
We do have a choice. While our human tendencies would have us walk away from God once we are satisfied and full, we don’t have to. We can choose to learn from history and choose another mode of growth and purification. We can choose to cling to God when life is good, just as we do when we go through tough times. We can choose to thank God for all we have so that we will remember from Whom our blessings flow.
History is replete with examples of learning the hard way. It’s time we choose another path toward growth — one that is filled with love, light, joy, and most importantly, our God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President