We read in Parashat Ki-Tavo of the rewards Moshe promises God would bestow upon us in reward for our observance of the Torah’s laws, blessings of material prosperity and security. He begins, “All these blessings shall come to you and catch you, for your will heed the voice of the Lord your God” (28:2).
Many commentators noted the unusual word “hisigukha” (“will catch you”) in this verse. Normally, this term is used in reference to a pursuit, when somebody succeeds in catching somebody trying to flee from him. Thus, for example, the Torah describes Pharaoh’s army reaching Benei Yisrael at the shores of the sea after Benei Yisrael fled – “va-yasigu otam” (Shemot 14:9). The question thus arises as to what the Torah means when it speaks of blessings “catching” us, as though we try to flee from them.
Netziv, in Ha’ameik Davar, offers a creative explanation of the word “hisigukha,” observing that generally, those whose minds are focused on exalted matters are not overly concerned with material blessings. When a person devotes his attention to acquiring knowledge and living piously, he is not likely to feel excited by additional material possessions or comforts. As his priority is knowledge, wisdom and piety, money and luxuries do not normally bring him special feelings of joy. However, Netziv writes, an exceptionally large acquisition will bring joy even to such an individual. Even one whose mind is focused upon sublime, exalted pursuits, and is not preoccupied with the pursuit of material luxury, is bound to experience joy and celebrate an especially large profit. Netziv thus explains that this verse, which concludes, “for your will heed the voice of the Lord your God,” refers to the time when we are passionately devoted to the study of Torah, to hearing “the voice of the Lord your God,” thirstily pursuing knowledge and understanding. At such times, we are, in a way, “fleeing” from material benefits, in the sense that spiritual achievement is our highest priority, and our material concerns are secondary. The Torah promises that the joy of material blessings will “catch” us even at such times, that our rewards will be so significant that despite our general disinterest in material blessings, we will experience great joy and exhilaration from the bounty that will be bestowed upon us.
Netziv’s comments remind us of the need to ensure that our priorities are properly in place, that our legitimate efforts to secure a respectable livelihood do not result in our material pursuits becoming our primary objective in life. Even if, by necessity, we devote the majority of our day to earning a livelihood, our primary goal and ambition must be the acquisition of wisdom and piety, and not the acquisition of wealth.