Times have changed. We all know that. But what about people? Are humans any different today than they were in ancient times? Has human nature evolved over the millennia, or are we, basically, the same kind of people we always were?

Some five weeks before his passing, Moses begins a series of sermons that can be described as his ethical will. He foresees the future and tries to spare his flock the tragedies that may arise from their potential errors of judgment in the years ahead.

He speaks of the good times and the bad, and addresses the people’s possible responses to the fortunes and misfortunes they may face.

And it will be, when the L‑rd, your G‑d, brings you to the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest you forget the L‑rd, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.1

Moses understood human nature all too well. Forty years of leading his people had taught him all anyone could ever hope to know about the human psyche.

He realized that in times of wealth and success, his people might well forget the Great Provider of their blessings.

And so, he cautions them to remember Who it was that gave them their freedom in the first place: The Almighty, who took them out of Egyptian bondage and fed them manna from heaven, would also give them victory over the Canaanite nations and, eventually, a land of their own, he promised.

He also understood that it was all too likely that it would take a change of fortune for them to remember the source of their blessings.

When you are distressed, and all these things happen upon you in the end of days, [only] then you will return to the L‑rd your G‑d and obey Him.2

Was he wrong? When do we cry out to G‑d? When we are distressed. When we experience tsuris. When times are tough. That’s when we return to Him and His way of life.

So, I ask you: Has human nature really changed? Is it any different today from the days of Moses?

When do people run to synagogue, to the rabbi, to the graves of the righteous, or to the Western Wall? In times of trouble. When does the Siddur suddenly inspire our most articulate, eloquent expressions of appeal to the Almighty? When do we cry out to Him with our deepest, most genuine sincerity, if not when asking Him to save us from our worries and woes?

And you know what? That is entirely appropriate. Where else should we turn? To whom should we direct our prayers and our cries for help, if not Him?

But what Moses is teaching us is to remember G‑d as the source of our good fortune, too, not only in our hours of hardship.

We may be clever, work smart and hard, but still, success and failure are not necessarily in our own hands. “There is no bread for the wise,”3 said King Solomon, the wisest of all men. Indeed, I know plenty of very smart people who never “made it” and some less intellectually endowed folks who became great successes. Clearly, there is a heavenly hand at work here.

Moses’s message is just as relevant to us as to his own generation over 3,000 years ago. So, indeed, it appears that human nature has not changed one bit.

On more than one occasion, the Rebbe lamented that he had too many tsuris chassidim,” referring to those who only turned to him when times were tough. He even remarked that, sometimes, the only way he realized people’s problems had been solved was when he didn’t hear from them again.

And I once heard that the Rebbetzin commented how grateful she was when a certain individual from London made the trans-Atlantic trip to New York just to give a personal “thank you” to the Rebbe for his sage advice and blessings which had helped him tremendously.

In my community of Johannesburg, we are currently involved in a campaign to build a new girls’ high school. The project was given a huge lift-off when a prosperous donor was approached by one of my rabbinic colleagues to contribute. During their conversation, the rabbi asked the businessman, “Has G‑d not been very good to you?” The man’s honest and humble response? A multi-million contribution!

May we all experience only good fortune and never forget where it came from.