One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that of reward and punishment. Keep the mitzvoth and get rewarded. Violate the laws of the Torah and be punished. This basic theme runs throughout much of the Torah – especially in sefer Devarim.

As Moshe prepares his flock to finally enter the land, he repeatedly exhorts them to follow the laws of the Torah, warning of dire consequences if they do not. Yet, most interestingly, the rewards the Torah mentions are always of a material nature: plentiful crops, lots of healthy animals, prosperity. The closest one gets to something spiritual is the promise of a long life. But in the Torah itself, there is no direct mention of a Messianic Age, the World to Come, resurrection, and the like.

It is apparent that material blessings should thus be cherished and enjoyed; they are gifts from G-d. The concluding line of tractate kiddushin of the Jerusalem Talmud teaches, “In the future, man will have to give an accounting and reckoning of all that his eye saw and he did not eat from it”. G-d created a world for us to enjoy.

Yet, as in all aspects of life, that which can bring good may—if misused—bring about harm. “And Jeshurin waxed fat and kicked [off the yoke of commandments]” summarizes the potential danger of materialism. Wealth is often a cause of arrogance.

The Torah constantly reminds us that we were slaves in the land of Egypt, that we have lowly beginnings, hoping to humble us. On Pesach night, the night we are to display our wealth, we eat “poor man’s bread”, despite the fact that we are now free and should be enjoying the fattest and most chametzdik of foods. We also begin the Hagaddah by noting our forefathers were idol worshippers. We must recall both our physical and spiritual lowliness to enable us to put our blessings in perspective and use them properly.

But that may not be enough. There are two basic ways of becoming wealthy; one can earn wealth through hard work, or be given it on a silver platter. The Torah says that this can make all the difference.

The dangers of materialism are greatly mitigated when our material blessings come as a result of our own hard work. Those who came “from nothing” tend to have a greater understanding and empathy for the less fortunate, and tend to be less showy with their wealth.

“And when G-d will bring you to the land ...and give you large flourishing cities that you did not build, and houses filled with plenty that you did not fill, and finished cisterns that you did not quarry, vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be very careful lest you forget the Lord, your G-d, who brought you out of Egypt” (6:10-12). Moshe’s fear is precisely because the Jewish people conquering the land will live in cities they did not build, take over furnished homes, enjoy the fruits of produce they did not plant. Wealth acquired with little effort leads, “in the majority of cases, to forgetting one’s past and to forget the One who gave him the good” (Malbim 6:12); or, in the words of the Seforno, “Wealth acquired in this fashion causes, in most cases, one to lust after more, and leads man to forget his Maker”.

We tend to only value only that at which we work. We read this week of the Aseret Hadibrot, which had to be given twice. “Chisel for yourself two tablets like the first ones...that you broke” (Shemot 34:1). The first set of tablets was written by G-d, and Moshe had little hesitation in breaking them. But the second set he himself wrote, almost guaranteeing that he would not throw them down so easily.

Rashi (Sukkah 41a) is of the opinion that the Third Temple will miraculously come down from heaven. What could be a greater show of the redemption, of G-d’s glory revealed? Yet the Rambam records, as one of the 613 mitzvoth, a human obligation to build the Temple. If man is to fully value the Temple, he must build it himself.

“One who hates gifts will live”, Shlomo Hamelech taught years ago. Material rewards are wonderful and a great blessing – if we can truly appreciate them and recognize them as a means of getting closer to G-d. Some people can find G-d only through spiritual pursuits. Others are blessed because they are able to come closer to G-d through the blessings of this world, using them in the service of G-d.