The parsha opens up by talking about someone who is technically frum (looks frum, acts frum)...but inside, this Jew's "heart turns today from being with Hashem to go and serve the gods of other nations" (Devarim 29:17).
And despite hearing the frightening curses, this Jew will quietly bless himself (or herself!) and say, "Peace will be with me though I go with however my heart sees fit" (Devarim 29:18).
Despite this Jew's outer service and mitzvah observance, just this inner turn off the good path causes Hashem to label him (or her!) as "a root flourishing with gall and wormwood."
Pretty heavy stuff.
Eretz Yisrael: The Pipeline to Olam Haba, Not Olam Hazeh
While we need to attend to our physical and material needs, Eretz Yisrael is for our spiritual benefit.
We cannot become materialists in Eretz Yisrael.
The material abundance is only here to enable us to greater spiritual heights.
I believe this one of the reasons why material accomplishments now come so much harder in Eretz Yisrael — or don't come at all, despite all the material abundance lurking just beneath the surface.
Look at what happened and is happening to those who use Eretz Yisrael's gifts for material pursuits.
Yet spiritual accomplishments are so much easier to reach in Eretz Yisrael. For example, it's so much easier to daven in Eretz Yisrael than anywhere else.
And to facilitate our davening we have the place of the Shechinah, the Kotel. And we also have some of the most powerful gravesites in the world as a conduit for fruitful prayers.
As a British friend of mine once declared in a fit of angst prior to a visit outside of Eretz Yisrael: "I can't PRAY in England!"
And I know exactly what she means.
(Disclaimer: I realize that many people pray very well in chutz l'Aretz and have developed tremendous spiritual greatness there. I'm just not one of them and neither is my British acquaintance, that's all.)
However, there are many people today who try to utilize tuv ha'Aretz for material goals only.
Again, that's NOT what this Land is for.
"The Most Perfect Land!"
Luscious and productive fields, beautiful orchards of various fruit, flowing streams of fresh water, and actual rivers of sweet date honey, mixed with fresh goat milk dotted the beautiful land. [Eretz zevat chalav u'devash], a land flowing with milk and honey, was not only a literal description of the land, but a symbol for a land that was filled with all forms of good.
Fresh-water springs and high-quality water-wells, the choicest of oils, bread without poverty, plus quality metals like iron & copper — these were the promises of Hashem regarding Eretz Yisrael.
And we see Eretz Yisrael coming alive again in our days.
In this small strip of Land, we have impressive deserts with their awe-inspiring night skies, beautiful forests, lovely beaches with azure water, snow-capped mountains, rolling hills in muted rainbow colors, the Dead Sea, beautiful flowers, and so much more.
Yet among all that goodness lay the devastated cities of Sedom.
I have a book, The Stones Cry Out, in which the archaeologists note that the remains of Sedom's houses are burnt in a way that clearly shows the fire came from above — exactly as described in the Torah. (That's just one example; the book has a whole section on what they discovered at Sedom.)
Hashem promised this Land to the Avot because of their tremendous service & dedication to Hashem.
Eretz Yisrael is superior not only spiritually, but materially too.
"The most perfect land for the most perfect people!" Rav Miller proclaims.
What is the Whole Point of Luxury?
If we are meant to be and actually are such a spiritual people so concerned with serving Hashem, then why all the material abundance?
Well, first of all: We are meant to elevate this world.
Furthermore, the more material abundance we enjoy, the more we can dedicate our hearts to serving Hashem & fulfilling the mitzvot — IF we make such avodah our focus.
As we all know, problems of disease, poor finances, war, or any other stresses distracts us from our service of Hashem.
How many times have we davened an entire Shacharit without even noticing a word we said because our minds couldn't let go of certain worries?
This is a big part of the reason why Hashem sends us problems when we don't serve Him properly.
We aren't using His Bounty as we should.
So He takes it away, chas v'shalom.
The Parable of the Office Water Cooler
He's not just doing it to be nice. Ditto when your boss doles out holiday gifts & bonuses.
He's trying to encourage your work quality.
People who feel good in their office environment want to stay. People work better with a cool refreshing drink by their side.
What would happen to the employees who chose to hang out by the water cooler all day and exchange useless banter & gossip, and even bad-mouth the boss?
You know what would happen.
And that's a big mashal for us.
What Makes You Get Fat Can Also Make You Kick If You Don't Watch Your Use of All the God-Given Bounty
This is like a bum who sees the quality & abundance of the wheat & barley of Eretz Yisrael and decides to invest in producing tons of beer & vodka for alcoholic consumption.
Rav Miller notes that many people today hunger after trouble and vices because they have too much to eat. They don't need focus on basic survival needs.
You see this throughout America and Europe.
Even though America's welfare system is nowhere near as generous as any of the European countries, America's poorest still get so much. Hardly anyone wants to admit that, but I've read accounts of grocery carts stocked with meat, seafood, and expensive bakery cakes — all paid for with government-given welfare.
So many Americans living in low-income areas and subsisting on welfare are obese.
Yes, I know that Twinkies are cheaper & more fun to eat than a package of frozen broccoli, but the point is that these people definitely have more than enough to eat.
Teens from welfare families all have "dumbphones."
The high school I attended comprised mostly working class students. The homecoming queen & head cheerleader worked after school to afford her clothes and the nice pick-up truck she drove to school. (It was a very pretty gray truck with a mauve interior & mauve lettering — very feminine for a truck.)
She was also a very decent person.
Despite being poor, a lot of the kids were fairly clean-cut. Not all of them, but many.
Their families either weren't poor enough to go on welfare or they were too proud to go on welfare. So people needed to work in order to acquire things. Oldest children couldn't go out partying or indulge in irresponsible behavior when they needed to care for younger siblings.
Many were also religious to some extent, and morality always helps whether you're rich or poor.
But the open secret is that in America, it's easy to have too much. People never feel like they have enough, but that's usually not true.
Rav Miller notes that people start ruminating over unnatural taavot "because they just have too much." (pg. 11)
And it's deceptively simple as that.
How to REALLY Drink that Fine "Wine"
The abundance of This World is meant as encouragement, not reward.
When we are down, we can have a drink.
A drink, not the whole vomit-inducing bottle.
Rav Miller recommended one despondent man to take a walk outside and enjoy the weather.
"Don't think about anything," Rav Miller advised. "Just enjoy it."
Then the rav prescribed the man eat a lot of ice cream and go to bed early for a good night's sleep. And to thoroughly enjoy himself!
Needless to say, a person should not do this every day or even every week.
That's taavah. That's gluttony. That's idleness.
But as an occasional pick-me-up when other methods don't work?
How is that different than taking medication for the occasional pain?
Also, if you really let yourself in enjoy the one-time indulgence, it gets you back to appreciating the world, which allows you to re-connect with Hashem.
Rav Miller sums up the balance here (pg. 13):
The function of good times in this world is to cheer up mourners. And that’s all of us!
Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to give people strength and encouragement.
We want people to accomplish here in this world, and for that, life can’t be morose and morbid. You need good times to be a successful eved Hashem.
Only that some people, those who are wise,have sense enough to get along with a little sip of wine. A little bit of happiness is enough; they cheer up and get back to work, back to avodas Hashem.
And they live a happy life that way.
There are a lot of kosher ways to enjoy life; you just have to know how and when.
Hashem Never Lets a Good Deed Go Unrewarded. NEVER.
In His Infinite Compassion, Hashem grants even the worst people reward for the minuscule good they've done.
This should encourage the rest of us who aren't actually evil and have done a lot more than a teaspoon of good in the world.
If those really awful people get their reward, then all the more so with the rest of us!
The Massive Challenge in Our Times: Avoid Slurping Up All Your Merits!
It's a massive challenge today.
What do you really need to give up in the MATERIAL world to become frum?
Not much. (The sacrifice today tends to pertain more to the nefesh than the physical.)
We have a "kosher" version of almost everything. Okay, sometimes the kosher version isn't as good as the original, but even the poorer imitations are still good enough.
Even the catchy song that took Israel by storm, Shevet Achim V'Achayot, got recorded immediately after the original release by 2 frum guys, who also changed one of the lyrics "from the parties of Tel Aviv" to "the sunsets (shkiyot) of Tel Aviv."
(Initially, I thought it was "the nonsense/shtuyot of Tel Aviv" until I was corrected.)
So you can even enjoy a hit song cleansed from kol ishah and unwholesome references.
That's just one example.