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Parshas Vayishlach

Who Is Rich? He Who Is Content

Eisav said, I have much... And Ya'akov said... I have everything. (Bereishis 33:9,11)

From Derech Emunah u'Bitachon, vol. 2, by R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg.

According to the Kli Yakar, this dialogue between Ya'akov and Eisav highlights an important difference between the righteous and the wicked. Eisav said to Ya'akov, "I have much" (Bereishis 33:9). The implication of his statement is "a lot, but not everything." On the other hand, Ya'akov replied, "For God has graced me and I have everything." Even when the wicked have all the gold and silver in the world, they still feel they are lacking something: true, they have a lot - but not everything that they want. The righteous, however, are just the opposite. Even when they have only a little, they are content with that and happy with their lot. No matter how many or few their possessions, they always feel as if they have everything.

Curiously, another verse seems to negate the idea that Ya'akov was indeed content with what he had. In Bereishis 32:25 we read: "And Ya'akov was left alone." Quoting Chazal, Rashi comments: "He forgot some small jars and went back to retrieve them." Strange indeed! We can understand Eisav acting in such a manner. His entire life centered around the pursuit of physical pleasures, and such a person is never satisfied - as Chazal inform us: "One who has a hundred wants two hundred" (Koheles Rabbah 1:32). It's not too difficult to imagine Eisav as a penny-pinching miser who was reluctant to forgo even the most trivial of possessions. But Ya'akov!? He was not supposed to be interested in the material world at all! Why did he feel compelled to go and retrieve a few jars that weren't worth more than a few pennies? Based on Ya'akov's behavior, the Sages explain that the righteous cherish every one of their possessions, because they are concerned about even the minutest possibility of theft (Chullin 91a). This idea, of course, needs to be studied, but even without probing further into the meaning of this statement, we can see that the greatness of tzaddikim lies in their ability to be content and happy with whatever they own. They consider everything the Almighty gives them as precious. However, with the wicked, the opposite is true. When one's sole interest is the pursuit of more and more gold and silver, he cares precious little about the loss of a few worthless jars.

Contentment - The Basis of Torah

What is the definition of "contentment"? In Even Sheleimah (3:4), the Vilna Gaon explains that when one has more than he needs, there is no question that he feels content. However, true contentment means being completely satisfied with what one has with no desire for anything more. People fool themselves into thinking they need so many things. To be content means to be satisfied with the physical possessions one has. One who wants more than he has is suffering from "desire." The Gaon comments: "All transgression stems from 'desire'... Its opposite, 'contentment,' is the basis of the whole Torah" (ibid. 3:2). It is important to understand that when the Torah enjoins us to be content with what we have, it doesn't mean that the Almighty wishes to withhold His munificence from us. Rather, it is telling us that this is the path to growth. The Talmud (Gittin 59a, Sanhedrin 36a) relates that R. Yehudah Ha-Nasi embodied the greatness of Torah and wealth together, and gives numerous examples of his incredible fortune. Yet at the time of his death, he raised his ten fingers Heavenward and exclaimed, "Master of the universe! You know that I toiled with my ten fingers for Torah, and that I didn't take any enjoyment for myself [from the pleasures of this world] - not even an amount the equivalent of my smallest finger" (Kesubos 104a). R. Yehudah Ha-Nasi didn't pursue money as an end in itself - he was happy with whatever the Almighty deigned to give him. When Hashem put him in a position of great wealth, he didn't use it to satisfy his desires; he used it in the service of God.

Of course, it is natural and completely acceptable to pursue what one needs for survival. However, more than this is "desire," and this is the opposite of what the Torah expects of us. When a Jew understands this principle, he will be spared much heartache and disillusionment. It is impossible for a person to grow when he wants everything. There is no limit to the pleasures this world has to offer, and their unbridled pursuit is far from the path of Torah. Ya'akov Avinu wanted only bread to eat and a garment to wear, and when he attained this he said, "I have everything." A millionaire doesn't bother with "small jars" because he's always running after the next million. There is no limit to the hunt for more wealth, and therefore a few small jars are a joke to him. His corrupt viewpoint is based on a lust for money. But Ya'akov Avinu (himself fabulously wealthy) needed little to be satisfied, and he considered all he possessed as the "holy of holies," for he saw the spiritual value that is inherent in everything.

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 52:3) relates:

A disciple of R. Shimon bar Yochai once traveled abroad and returned to Eretz-Yisrael a wealthy man. When his fellow students saw this, they became jealous and also wanted to leave the yeshivah to make their fortunes. R. Shimon found out about this and took them out to a valley near Meron. He started praying, and said, "Valley, valley, fill up with gold coins." Immediately, the valley began filling with gold coins before the eyes of the awestruck students. R. Shimon said to them, "If it's gold you want, here it is. Take it! But I must tell you that anyone who benefits now is detracting from his portion in the world to Come, for the reward of Torah is only in the World to Come."

R. Shimon ben Chalafta came home one erev Shabbos and found nothing to eat in his home. He went outside the city and prayed to God, and was miraculously given a precious stone from Heaven. He sold it and bought food for Shabbos. When his wife asked where this newfound wealth had come from, he replied, "It was Heaven sent!" She said to him, "If you don't tell me where it came from, I'm not going to eat anything." He then told her what happened, saying, "I prayed to God and it was given to me from Heaven." She responded, "I am not going to eat anything until you promise you will return it after Shabbos." He asked, "Why?" She answered, "In the World to Come, do you want your table to be lacking while your neighbor's table is full?"

This Midrash addresses the commonly heard claim that one must be well established before undertaking to study Torah. In truth, such a claim is completely at odds with the Torah's perspective. These two stories teach that the ben Torah should be content with however much or little he owns. If he has more than he needs, he is diminishing his reward in the World to Come. And even if he encounters obstacles and difficulties, he shouldn't despair or be depressed. The Almighty will certainly help him. As it says in the Shemoneh Esrei, God is "the support [mishan] and assurance [mivtach] of the righteous."

The Vilna Gaon (in Siddur Ha-Gra) explains the meaning of that: "He promises (mivtach) the tzaddikim who trust in Him, and ultimately gives them what they ask for. Moreover, even before they present their request, He supports (mishan) them so that they will not lose their trust in Him." Hashem supports a person while he is experiencing difficulties so that he will be able to maintain himself and not become discouraged until the Almighty delivers him.

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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