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13 Ellul 5760 - September 13, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
To Be Content With One's Lot

by L. Jungerman

"And you shall rejoice with all the good which Hashem has given you" (at the end of the parsha of bikkurim in Ki Sovo).

The bikkurim, first fruits, are not the cause for rejoicing; they are the opportunity. To be happy with what one has instead of focusing on what one lacks. This is what the Sefer Hakuzari teaches in the third essay.

"We are charged to be happy with our portion in life through the commandment of `And you shall rejoice with all the good which Hashem has given you.' This is not one of those mitzvos kiyumiyos (like the original command for tzitzis) for which we are rewarded if we fulfill them but are not punished if we fail to keep them (except for times of heavenly wrath, when we are taken to task for not observing them). Rather this is a standing obligation. The Kuzari adds and determines that regarding the lack of joy in our Heaven-ordained lot, we are warned direly by the tochacha curse later in the parsha, `He curtails the praise which is expected of him for all of these favors.' Praise is supposed to follow rejoicing. If it does not, then a person will experience the consequence of `Instead of not having served Hashem your G-d with joy and mellowness of heart, you shall serve your enemies.'"

The measure of contentment in one's lot is not only based on the type of person one is and his general character traits, such as whether he is inclined to be optimistic or pessimistic, egotistic or masochistic. Indeed, not. Contentment with one's portion is the outcome of a proper outlook on life, of studied faith and understanding of the source of all things, whereas lack of contentment in one's circumstances is a sign of distorted faith.

A true believer must naturally be happy with his lot for it is clear to him that Hashem has provided him with the exact tools and circumstances he needs to attain his perfection in life. He is aware of what Chazal taught that "all creations were formed with their individual nature and stature." No person resembles another. Each one is unique in his particular composite of talents and strengths and one person does not overlap upon another, in any way, by even a hairsbreadth.

The Torah presents to us an example of the differences of approach that exist between the one who is pure and trusting in his faith and the nonbeliever. Yaakov and Eisov meet after a long separation and both express satisfaction in their circumstances. But the style is so different. Yaakov says: "`I have everything' -- all of my needs" (Rashi). Eisov, on the other hand, counters with, "`I have plenty' -- much more than I really require" (Rashi).

The difference is blatant. In Yaakov's eyes, wealth is a means to fulfill his needs and he finds satisfaction in whatever is his portion. Eisov, however, considers his wealth an acquisition. In his greed, he will never be satisfied, for he continues to want more and more. He does not look at what he has, but what he would still like to add to his possessions. His "needs" are not at the basic minimum subsistence level. His needs are far greater, and they keep on growing. His possessions are the object of his pleasure. They serve his goal of self gratification, which is never satisfied.

The power of contentment in one's lot is the result of regarding everything one possesses as a means, serving a definite purpose. They make possible the fulfillment of one's individual goal in life. With this outlook, it is clear that if one is poor or lacks something, it is because he is meant to contend with that lack; that very lack is his means of self-fulfillment, his way of performing his mission on earth. Some people must serve Hashem through plenty, by withstanding the temptations of wealth and handling riches in the proper manner. Others are meant to serve Hashem in exactly opposite circumstances, through poverty and lack. Nothing is given for the sake of pure pleasure.

That is the misconception of Eisov, or osui -- ready made, silver-plattered for self gratification; the means to provide one's pleasure. And conversely, one's needs can be fulfilled precisely through their lack, through serving Hashem out of deprivation. The Mesillas Yeshorim states, "For all the matters of this world, be they good or bad, are tests for man, poverty on the one hand and riches on the other."

This is how the Maharal explains the significance of Chazal's description of the fetus in the mother's womb. He eats from what she eats. The womb is his entire cosmos. He gets exactly what he needs and has no desire for any more or anything outside. This is what is best for him. It is his good fortune that he does not ask for more or get anything beyond his needs. This is his lot at that stage of life: no more and no less than what he requires to exist.

Chazal also said that one person does not encroach upon what is prepared for another. Let no one think that his competitor is impinging upon his rightful gains, is taking away his business profits. He will get what is coming to him, no matter what. This corresponds to the example of the fetus, which consumes the food that his mother provides -- only he and no other, which in any case is virtually impossible. Therefore, it is only natural that he be happy with his lot, for it is specially prepared for him, custom tailored. It is his particular mazal in life, his ordained individual lot and fate. It is the individual space that he takes up on this world, his pigeonhole. Anything that belongs to others was not meant for him (Drush leShabbos Shuva).

Each one and his portion, what he possesses and what he does not possess. This is his world, his way, his womb. These are the tools that are suited to his needs and only his needs, because he has a one-and-only mission to fulfill in life. He is a soldier in Hashem's army, with his individual assignment. This is the way it works in an army. An artilleryman cannot be in the infantry; a paratrooper is not a marine and will not ask why he was not assigned to man a tank in the desert while his good friend is operating a submarine in distant waters. Only the commanders can assign soldiers to their divisions and make sure that these function properly, each in its own sphere of operation.

When all is said and done, it is much easier this way. Since we cannot change things, why not believe in the necessity of a major plan and be happy? "He should be happy with his portion, for whoever is seized by pride and self importance will be so bloated with it that the entire world and all of its contents will not suffice the maintenance of his [greedy] heart and his derision of whatever falls short of his expectations.

"But if he submits to his lot, he does not expect beyond what he receives; everything is good enough and satisfies his needs. This frame of mind will bring him peace of mind and banish all fears and anxieties. One who submits to whatever Providence has in store for him will submit to times of tests and tribulations without suffering, for he will not have any expectations of his own. The arrogant one, however, will fear constantly, and will suffer all the time when things fall short of his expectations, which will be constant, since his desires will never be fulfilled" (Chovos Halevovos, Shaar Haknia 10).

Chazal demand this outlook from each of us, to be adapted to our daily lives. After all, they established the daily morning blessing of "He gave me all of my needs." Who, then, fails to be happy if all of his needs are fulfilled?

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