The Arrogance of Inaction

By Jonah Baskin

In this week’s parsha, parshat Eikev, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites before they enter the land, much of which is devoted to admonishments to remember the mitzvot and the various punishments for failure to comply.  Moses cautions the Israelites not to forget that God ultimately ensures their prosperity, “lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses, and live within them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that is yours is multiplied… you will say in your heart: ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have produced this wealth for me.’” (Deuteronomy, 8:12-17) This caution against arrogance is interesting because it represents a unique strain of the vice that is easy to forget about. 

We often use a model of arrogance where people fail to see their own limits and arrogantly fly too close to the sun or build a tower that reaches too high. In this form of arrogance, people try to change and reach beyond the status quo in improper ways. The arrogance Moses cautions against is of a very different type: it is rooted in a contentment with the status quo, and moreover an utter conviction that a pleasant status quo is entirely self-caused.  It allows us to think that we are solely and directly responsible for our good situation, and because of that, that the status quo is both legitimate and just.  It is when food, shelter and general economic wellbeing are all properly secured and a privileged position in society is obtained, that we can not only enjoy our privileged position, but moreover move to incorrectly justify it. When we arrogantly see our prosperity as a result entirely borne of our own power, it becomes far too easy to make the leap that we deserve all of the privilege we have, and that there is no obligation of justice to redistribute our prosperity to be more equitably spread out in society.

As Americans, we can sometimes fall prey to believing that all of the many things that make our country great are the direct result of our own power. Energy efficiency and climate change pose an interesting counter example. Our nation was one of the first to reap the incredible economic benefits of the Industrial Revolution, powered by cheap carbon fuels.  Our early carbon head start has allowed us to ascend to a position of economic power and prosperity on the world stage. Less wealthy countries who did not industrialize before we realized the dangers of greenhouse gasses now can’t pay for green energy sources and the infrastructure needed to adapt to the changing climate.

The United Nations created the Green Climate Fund through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to help these less wealthy countries adapt to our changing world.  President Obama has committed to paying $3 billion dollars into the fund and to meet that commitment has asked Congress to allocate $500 million for the fund in this year’s budget.  Beyond the significance of the funds ability to help people around the world, meeting our commitment would signal that the U.S. is finally ready to commit to being a leader in the fight against climate change. Like the Israelites, we must heed Moses’ warning and recognize that the status quo of our economic prosperity is not solely do to our work, but due to the luck of the US to be blessed by early industrialization, before we realized its global costs.  Urge your members of Congress to support allocation for the Green Climate Fund.  We must recognize that our accomplishments are not the “might of our own hand alone,” and that circumstances beyond “our own power” have put our nation and some of the world’s other biggest economies in a position to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. We must use that knowledge to recognize the injustice in vulnerable communities around the world having face the effects of a crisis without the means of protecting themselves, and we must act to correct it.

Jonah Baskin


Jonah Baskin is a rising third year at the University of Chicago, where is planning to double major in Environmental Studies and Public Policy, which he hopes will lead to a career in environmental policy. This summer, Jonah is interning at the AFL-CIO, where he is analyzing legislation passed in various states over the past legislative session. 


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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.

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