Controlling Desire (Parsha Ha’azinu)

This week’s (9/18/2021) Parsha is Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1–32:52). In this week’s Torah portion we read:

But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
(Deut. 32:15 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria comments on this verse saying:

(120) Moses proceeds to say, that Tubal’s sister was Noeman, the interpretation of which name is “fatness.” For it follows that those who pursue a luxurious condition of the body, and the other objects which I have mentioned, do get fat when they obtain any of the things that they desire: but such fatness as this I lay down as not strength but weakness; for it teaches a man to depart from the honour due to God, which is the first and most excellent power of the soul: (121) and the law is a witness to this which in the great hymn speaks thus–“He was fat, he was rich, he was exceeding broad, and he forsook God who had made him, and he forgot God his Saviour.” (Deut. 32:15.) For in truth those men whose lives have been exceedingly fortunate and are so at the time, do not remember the eternal God, but they think time their god; (122) on which account Moses bears witness, exhorting us to war against the contrary opinions, for he says, “The time has departed from them, and the Lord is among Us.” (Num. 14:9.) So that those men by whom the life of the soul is honoured, have divine reason (Logos) dwelling among them, and walking with them; but those who pursue a life of pleasure have only a brief and fictitious want of opportunities: these men, therefore, having swollen extravagantly, and become enormously distended by their profuse fatness and luxury, have burst asunder. But the others, being made fat by that wisdom which nourishes the souls that love virtue, have a firm and unshaken power, a specimen of which is the fat which is sacrificed as a whole burnt-offering from every victim: (123) for Moses says, “All the fat shall belong to the Lord by the everlasting Law;” (Lev. 3:16.) so that the fat of the mind is offered up to God and is appropriated to him, owing to which it is made immortal; but the fat which clings to the body and belongs to external things is referred to time, which is contrary to God, through which it very rapidly wastes away.
(On the Prosperity of Cain 120-123)

Philo sees Jeshurun in this verse as an example of those who have become slaves to desire, and contrasts Jeshrun with those who have the Logos (divine reason) dwelling in them, and walking with them.

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