Sinai Synagogue, Shabbat AM, November 28, 2015
I have been obsessed with a television show lately. It is Jessica Jones on Netflix. It is the story of a down on her luck superhero. Her life has been ruined by a super bad guy, who manipulated her powers of strength for his own ends. His power is mind control, he can make anyone near him do his bidding, even killing others or making a person commit suicide. She broke free of his control and now lives with the guilt of all the terrible things she did to innocent people while under his control. At one point while watching the series I was confused about the limited goals of the bad guy. I mean, if you can control people so effectively why don’t you just take over the world? But as the series moves along we see that this evil person is obsessed with the superhero Jessica Jones. Why? Because having broken free of his control she is the one thing this person who can have anything he wants at anytime, money, women, the finest material things one can acquire, she is the one thing he can’t have. Thus this evil doer becomes a metaphor for the very common human weakness of constant lust for things that we do not have. Most of the misery in human life is desiring or lusting for what we do not have. Occasionally we are able to acquire it but within a short period of time there is another item or want to take its place. It is not always things, material goods. It can be status, or achievements, or identity or relationships. Our lives are driven by desires and goals. Now such desires are not all bad or wrong. The desire to better our lot, or improve the world is at times necessary. What a sorry lot this world would be in if we only accepted things as they are and did not believe striving to improve was possible or desirable. But there is no doubt that wanting what we don’t have, especially when it comes to material goods, and not being able to accept and be content with what we have is the source of much unhappiness in our lives. This week’s Torah portion there is a telling exchange in this regard between Esau and Jacob. Jacob is returning home with his family. To return to the land of Israel he must face his brother Esau. To appease him, Jacob sends a series of messengers bearing gifts. Esau is surprised at the largesse and generosity of the gifts and that Jacob has become so successful. But Esau has done well himself and tells Jacob the gifts are not necessary. Esau said, “I have enough (rav), my brother; let what you have remain yours.” Jacob insists that he take the gifts. “Please accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please accept my present which has been brought to you, for God has favored me and I have plenty (kol).” Careful readers of the text note that Jacob’s response is not the same as Esau’s. Esau at first refuses the gifts saying, I have a lot of stuff (rav), I don’t really need this. Jacob’s response is no, take for I have (kol), literally – everything. The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Ephraim of Lunshitz, explains “The way of the wicked, even when they have all the silver and gold in the world, they still feel a lack and a need for things. They have much but not enough for their needs. If they have 100 dollars, they want two hundred. Esau’s statement is about quantity of what he has, not the quality of his life. With the righteous it is the opposite, even if they have just a little they are content and happy with what they have. And it seems to them that they have everything.” He remarks that this is also true about honor and status. The wicked one always wants more acknowledgement for his deeds, the righteous person does not need public recognition or awards. Not only that but Jacob’s insistence that he has all that he needs is preceded by the acknowledgement that his contentment is a product of Divine grace: “for God has favored me and I have all”. The righteous appreciate that all they have is due to grace, and not on account of deserving it, whereas the wicked assume that everything they have is owed to them. Of course, the Kli Yakar is speaking in typologies here. It is not just wicked people who see what they own or have in life as a quantifiable amount that they can compare to what others have, all of us, wicked or decent, do so. But those who are content with what they have are truly special individuals, as taught by Ben Zoma in Pirke Avot, “Who is rich? the one who is happy with his portion.” The Sfat Emet adds a different dimension to the distinction between the responses of Esau and Jacob. “One who is attached to the Source of All above has all. Everything contains a element of the Divine. Thus “all” is really found everywhere, because everything contains that godly life. God is called Shalom, which means wholeness, because every point of divine energy contains all. In this way one who draws everything to the Source has all. It makes no difference whether it is more or less.” The truly religious individual recognizes that a life of acquisition is meaningless. The Sfat Emet suggests that one can find the whole, the all, in any individual part and thus no matter how much one has, be it material or non material, it is possible to be truly content with one’s portion. These are lessons that require reminding every day of our lives. As in the often told folk story: A poor Hasid became so distraught because of the overcrowding in his hovel that he appealed to his Rebbe, “We have so many people living with us that we can’t turn around in the house”. The Rebbe counseled the man to first move his goat, then his chickens, and finally even his cow in to the house. He returned, half crazed to the Rebbe. “It’s the end of the world”, cried the man. The Rebbe responded, “Now go home, turn out the goat, the chicken, and the cow and report to me tomorrow.” The following day the Hasid showed up beaming. “Rebbe! my hut seems like a palace now!” This weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving people sit down and share a meal and many volunteer to feed those in need or contribute to that cause because the day insists that we appreciate what we have. One day the message is be thankful for what you have and for whom you have. And then comes Black Friday, an appropriately named day, a day on which we give in to all our materialist cravings. Thus it is for us that on this weekend in which we celebrate thanksgiving and exploit the worst of our acquisitiveness, that we meditate on the difference between “Yesh li rav” and “Yesh li kol”. The difference between having ‘plenty’, a quantitative measurement and ‘all’, a qualitative statement. May we all be blessed with kol!