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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Be happy with a lot or a little
Being happy with his lot is the next item the Mishnah enumerates in the list of things one needs to acquire Torah. "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources." We definitely are expected to serve G'd with our own hearts, souls and resources. Whatever one's lot is, it is custom-made for one's specific purpose in life. Life is like a school with different classes, each one with its special tests. "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." "The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money." Just as one's assets are Divinely decreed for every individual's purpose in life, so is a person's spouse. Nowadays, it has become acceptable that as soon as there are challenges in a marriage, people are ready to give up and seek divorce. One who is not happy has no peace of mind, and such a person will find it extremely difficult to concentrate and focus on his Torah study. One must be happy with one's lot also in regards to the actual study of Torah.
Happy with one's lot
In the last Torah Attitude we discussed how "recognizing one's place" is one of the things needed to acquire Torah. We elaborated on how one who recognizes his place in society feels good about himself. At the same time he will stay humble if he recognizes that all his qualities are nothing but Divine blessings. Such a person will also be happy with his lot, which is the next item the Mishnah enumerates in the list of things one needs to acquire Torah. For just as he understands that all his qualities were given to him for the sole purpose of serving G'd and benefiting mankind, the same applies to all his assets.
"All your heart, all your soul and all your resources"
When I was growing up, my late father often used to talk about what it says in Shema (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources." My father would point out that it does not just say that we should love G'd with our hearts, souls and resources. Rather, it says with all your heart, all your soul, and all your resources. This teaches us that it is our obligation to utilize all our capacity and assets to express our love for G'd and to serve Him. In his older days, my father would say to his grandchildren: "Be who you are." We all have our unique abilities and qualities. Our job is to utilize those abilities and qualities to fulfill our purpose in life.
With all your heart, soul and resources
The great Chassidic leader, the Rebbe Reb Zusha, used to share the same message with his followers. He would say that he will never be taken to task for not being "Moses", but he will be taken to task for not being "Zusha". This is also hinted at in the above verse of Shema. As it says, "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources." We are not expected to serve G'd with somebody else's heart, soul and resources. But we definitely are expected to serve G'd with our own hearts, souls and resources.
When a person recognizes his unique place in the community it enables him to utilize his heart and soul to their fullest capacity. He will do so to serve G'd only if he realizes that all his qualities were given to him for this purpose. Similarly, when a person is happy with his lot, he will utilize his resources in the same way. For he understands that whatever his lot is in life, it is custom-made for his specific purpose. Whether he has been blessed with affluence, or he has to manage on little, either way that is what was decided for him on the previous Rosh Hashanah to enable him to accomplish his specific task. It may change from one year to another, dependent on various factors, such as how he utilized his assets in the previous year.
Life full of tests
Once the Chofetz Chaim was asked how it was possible that a specific person, who had been a very generous philanthropist, suddenly had lost his entire fortune overnight. The Chofetz Chaim answered that life is like a school with different classes, each one with its special tests. This particular person had initially been tested with affluence and he had passed his test with flying colours. Now, said the Chofetz Chaim, he was being tested how he would manage with little, to see if he would stay strong in his faith.
"Who is rich?"
Earlier in Pirkei Avos (4:1) it says: "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." This seems strange? We would normally define "richness" with affluence. So how can we understand when the Mishnah says that anyone who is happy with his lot, whether he has much or little, is rich? The answer is that only the person who is satisfied and happy with what he has is truly rich. If someone is well-to-do, but is not happy with his lot because he would like to amass more wealth, he is not really rich, for he is lacking what he would like to possess. In a sense, he may be worse of than the pauper, even if the pauper is also not happy with his lot. For the unhappy pauper is only lacking a relative small amount to reach his goal in life, whereas the unhappy well-to-do person is missing a lot more to reach his goal.
"One who loves money never satisfied"
This is what King Solomon says in Koheles (5:9): "The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money." The Midrash Rabbah (Koheles 1:13) comments on this: "He who has a hundred wants two hundred. And he who has two hundred wants four hundred." In this way, the person will become gradually poorer since he is lacking more and more, the greater wealth he amasses. This is what the Mishnah means when it says that only the one who is happy with his lot is rich for he does not lack anything.
Rabbeinu Osher, better known as the Rosh, writes in his commentary on the Talmud (Tamid 32a) that a "person's lot" includes both his assets and his spouse. He says that a person should accept whatever has been Divinely decreed, and should not crave what is not his. One must realize that just as one's assets are Divinely decreed for every individual's purpose in life, so is a person's spouse. The Talmud (Sotah 2a) teaches that at the time of conception a Heavenly voice rings out saying, "the daughter of so and so is destined for so and so". Obviously, as in everything in life, a person has free choice and may mess up and cause that the destined soul-mate is not suited anymore. In that case, says the Talmud, the spouse will be someone according to the person's actions (see Maharal in his commentary on the Talmud ibid).
Nowadays, it has become acceptable that almost as soon as there are challenges in a marriage, people are ready to give up and seek divorce. This is an influence from the general society. Many people live together in marriage or without marriage, and when things are getting a little difficult, or if they meet someone else they like better, they part ways without feeling the responsibility they carry for each other. It becomes much more aggravating when they act in this way even though they have children together. These children often become insecure and are scarred for life due to the selfish behaviour of their parents who did not put in sufficient effort to seek guidance how to be happy with their lot.
Peace of mind
It is very understandable that the Mishnah teaches that one needs to be happy with one's lot in order to acquire Torah. For the one who is not happy has no peace of mind, and such a person will find it extremely difficult to concentrate and focus on his Torah study. This applies both to his financial situation, as well as to his spouse.
Feel good about Torah studies
Some commentaries explain that one must be happy with one's lot also in regards to the actual study of Torah. Although a person should always be ambitious to learn more, it is important to be happy and satisfied with what one has already accomplished in one's Torah studies. There is no contradiction between having an ambition to know more and understand better, and at the same time to feel good about what one has accomplished. Some people always feel inadequate in their studies and think they are not learning enough. This is one of the ways of the evil inclination. It will discourage the person from studying as he feels that there is no purpose and that he will not accomplish much. Once we know the source of this attitude, we are able to fight back and convince ourselves that this is not true. If a person looks back fives years or ten years, he will soon enough see how much he has accomplished in that period of time. If we manage to internalize how to look at our material wealth, as well as our spiritual assets, with happiness and satisfaction, it will give us peace of mind and open up new vistas in our Torah studies that, G'd willing, we can delve into with success.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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