The words of the Chofetz Chaim could seem so simple and at the same time be very profound. They were understood by the hamon am, the poshute people, and yet giants of the generation like Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and Rav Elchonon Wasserman could sit with him for hours, enthralled by his words. Here is just one example of both simplicity and profundity at the same time.
During the momentous encounter between Yaakov Avinu and Eisav, the latter inquired about what Yaakov’s intentions in sending him the gifts.
He answered, “To gain favor in my lord’s eyes.”
Eisav said, “I have a lot. My brother, let what you have remain yours.”
But Yaakov said, “No, I beg you! …Please accept my gift, which was brought to you for Hashem has been gracious to me and as I have everything.”
About this, the Chofetz Chaim comments: Eisav said, “I have a lot, my brother.” But Yaakov said, “I have everything.” How revealing these statements are. Just a slight difference in expression. Eisav has a lot, but Yaakov has everything, yet it reflects a vast chasm between them in their varying outlooks on life. By Eisav saying that he has a lot, he is testifying, ‘But I still want more. I am still lacking for additional acquisitions.’ This is so in tune with man’s natural inclinations. One doesn’t leave this world having acquired even half of his desires. “One who has 100 coins desires 200. And one who has 200 aspires for 400” (Koheles Rabbah 3:13).
Not so Yaakov Avinu. He is graced with the middah of histapkus bemuat, being content with just a little. He has everything and doesn’t need more. Eisav’s tendency is to always want more of Olam Hazeh, whereas Yaakov is satisfied with what he has (Chofetz Chaim Hachodosh Al HaTorah).
Let us analyze these words of the Chofetz Chaim, because there is more to them than meets the eye. One might ask: It wasn’t so difficult for Yaakov to be satisfied with what he had, for he was blessed with riches that we can’t even imagine. All of the avos hakedoshim were wealthy, but it seems from the pesukim that Yaakov was the wealthiest of them all.
Regarding Avrohom it says, “Now Avrom was very laden with livestock, silver, and gold” (Bereishis 13:2). About Yitzchok it says, “The man became great and kept becoming greater until he was very great. He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises…” (ibid. 26:13-14). But in describing Yaakov Avinu’s wealth, the Torah uses the words me’od, me’od: “The man became exceedingly prosperous and he attained productive flocks, maidservants, servants, camels, and donkeys” (ibid. 30:43). In fact, the Medrash says that his wealth so expanded that it was a sampling of Olam Haba (Yalkut, Vayeitzei, remez 130).
Yaakov’s satisfaction with his lot was not so incredible, for indeed he had everything. But such a question is based on a lack of understanding of the inner nature of man. What would one say if he were delivering a hesped on Avrohom Avinu? That he publicized Hashem’s name to the extent that at one time He was merely G-d of heaven, but through Avrohom’s efforts, He became the G-d of the earth. That he was willing to die al kiddush Hashem in the flaming furnace. That he was willing to bring Yitzchok, his beloved son, as a korban. That he was exemplary in the mitzvah of chesed. That he passed the Asarah Nisyonos with flying colors. The list goes on. Yet, what is the Torah’s description of Avrohom when he was niftar? What is Hashem’s eulogy on his beloved one?
“And Avrohom expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people” (Bereishis 25:8). “Mature and content”?! This is the sole praise that the Torah gives to the av hamon goyim, who is described as the biggest man among the giants (Yehoshua 14:15)?
The Ramban explains this praise: “He realized all of his heartfelt requests and he was content with all of the good. This relates the chesed of Hashem with tzaddikim and the good middah that they possess, not aspiring for luxuries, as it says about them: ‘the desire of his heart you have granted him’ (Tehillim 21:3), and not what it says about others: ‘a lover of money will never be satisfied with money’ (Koheles 5:9).
But even after the Ramban’s explanation, we remain baffled as to why this should be the sole praise that characterizes Avrohom’s life.
Rav Simcha Zissel Broide, Chevroner rosh yeshiva, in his classic sefer Sam Derech, explains how powerful are the urges of man. It is a force so mighty that if one is not aware of it and does not work at checking it and taming it, it can totally overtake him and steer him far away from the proper path. “His wants are never satisfied” (Koheles 6:7). “Jealousy, lust, and glory remove a man from the world” (Avos 5:28).
No matter how much a person has acquired, he always has a desire for more. The more he has, the more he wants, and he will never stop wanting. Rav Elya Lopian compared this to one who is very thirsty and drinks herring brine to quench his thirst. This will only make him more thirsty, and the more of it he drinks, the thirstier he gets. And this doesn’t only apply to just any rich man. It even applies to the giants of giants. For deep in the caverns of one’s heart, the yeitzer hara is constantly at work, tugging and pushing and trying to convince him that he always needs more. “The heart is the most deceitful of all, and it is fragile – who can know it?” (Yirmiyahu 17:9).
Only those who are constantly working on themselves, those who always strive for spiritual growth, have a keen awareness of what lurks in the heart of man. And after gaining this awareness, they regularly put in the effort to squelch these forces that try to distract them and come between them and Hashem. Avrohom Avinu constantly humbled himself before Hashem. He appreciated every small chesed and said that he wasn’t worthy of it. When Hashem said to him, “I will bless her (Sarah); indeed, I will give you a son through her. I will bless her and she shall give rise to nations, kings of peoples will rise from her,” Avrohom said to Hashem, “O’ that Yishmoel might live before you!” Rashi explains: “If only Yishmoel lives. I am not worthy of receiving such reward” (Bereishis 17:16-19).
The ten nisyonos came at different intervals of Avrohom’s life, but they all happened at a given moment and they passed. Avrohom’s submission, his humbling himself before Hashem and purifying his neshomah, was his life’s occupation at every moment. And it took this dedication to subjugate those powerful forces within that threatened to derail him. “He who is greater than his friend, the greater is his yeitzer hara” (Sukkah 52a). Avrohom, through hard work, was up to the task. But even with the great efforts he put forth, he still needed the chesed of Hashem to remain satisfied.
This is why the Torah chooses this, mature and content, as his one outstanding attribute, because it encompasses his entire essence, humbling himself before Hashem and squelching the inner fire of his passions. This lesson was passed down to Yaakov Avinu, who became even wealthier, and his battles to be content were even harder. But in the end, he was able to proudly declare, “I have everything!”
This is the way the avos hakedoshim lived their lives. Their vast wealth did not detract from their penimiyus. To the contrary, it made them greater, as they thanked Hashem for every small chesed. And they passed this legacy down to us. Unfortunately, our being in golus for so many years has caused us to pick up ideas that are alien to our mesorah. The drive to acquire every comfort imaginable is a middah of Eisav, the antithesis of the ways of Yaakov.
How refreshing and inspiring it was to have read in the Yated a few weeks ago about that great benefactor in Klal Yisroel, Reb Moshe Reichmann zt”l. To him, wealth was just a means of serving Hakadosh Boruch Hu. How humble he was! The ikkar to him was penimiyus and Torah.
The source of many of today’s ills, the root of a lack of simchas hachaim, is the feeling that I need more, the drive to attain a standard of living that is beyond our means. This drive, says Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, is absorbed by children already at a young age. In the olden days, children were taught that whatever we have is enough. Don’t be jealous of a neighbor or a friend. The dress that Mommy bought you is beautiful, our food is delicious, and we mustn’t look at what someone else has. This was the chinuch of yesteryear, and even today those who follow this path and are mechanech their children this way live a life of satisfaction and happiness.
When the Klausenburger Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, started his community in Union City, there were those who questioned the move, saying that there were other places with more Yidden and more Yiddishkeit that made them more conducive for starting a kehillah. Why, then, did the rebbe pick a place where he was the first frum Yid?
He explained that the place found favor in his eyes because of its simplicity. It is the nature of man to imitate others. But instead of copying his neighbor who gets up at four in the morning to learn a blatt Gemara, he tends to acquire the same fancy kitchen as his neighbor or the same exquisite decorative furniture. “Here in Union City,” said the rebbe, “there is not much of that fanciness to see.”
In a talk to his chassidim, the rebbe quoted a posuk: “Better a dry piece of bread with peace in it than a house full of contentious celebrations” (Mishlei 17:1). And he said in heartfelt words: “A dry piece of bread in peace and tranquility is so much better than juicy meat that involves stress and arguments. How sweet is the bread eaten amidst ahavah, where people share with one another. In such a way of life, despite poverty and hardships, life is sweet and pleasant, in this world and surely in Olam Haba.”
Of course, people have to arrange their house in good taste. “A nice dwelling and nice furniture expand the mind of a person” (Brachos 57b). Of course, one must make an effort that the house not look shabby. Order and cleanliness are some of the outstanding signs in the home of a ben Torah. But if the need arises to acquire something new, it should be decided solely by the husband and wife based on what they truly need. Furniture is not meant to impress guests and visitors. The same goes for clothing. It is meant to clothe the body, not to show off to others (Aleinu Leshabeiach, Parshas Behaaloscha).
Those who live by these guidelines are free of the stress of having to compete with others and spending money beyond their means. They can focus on what really matters in life: pleasing Hashem and helping others. Hashem wants us to enjoy life and to serve Him with simcha. With the proper objectives, we are free of unnecessary pressures and, like Yaakov Avinu, we can truly say, “I have everything!”