"And Yaakov remained alone." He forgot several small jars and returned for them. From here we learn that tzaddikim cherish their possessions more than their bodies. Why? Because they heed themselves from theft" (Rashi quoting from Chulin).
Their possessions are dearer to them than their own bodies? Is this possible?
We are told that it is because they are careful not to steal, so that all their possessions are come by honestly. But what connection do small jars have to theft? Could leaving them behind bring him to such a sin? Besides, there is a wide spectrum from miserliness at the one end or parsimoniousness due to poverty, and the piety that causes one to value every G-d-given penny.
We must note the wording, however. It is not one who loves his money, or one who is careful not to spend a penny, who is termed a tzaddik. Rather, it is the tzaddik who cherishes his money and will not disclaim even small jars.
The tzaddik is a believer. "The righteous one lives by his faith." Rabbenu Bechaye writes (Parshas Pinchos), "A person is only called a tzaddik if he trusts in Hashem."
Thus, it is the tzaddik, who trusts in Hashem, who is fully cognizant of the fact that everything he has, comes from Hashem. It was given to him and is not a result of his effort or investment. "For the race is not to the fleetfooted, nor is the victory to the mighty, nor is bread to the clever one" (Koheles). Toil, investment, acumen, do not constitute the sure formula for wealth. Only Hashem impoverishes and enriches.
When a person has a palpable faith and belief that every single penny in his pocket is a gift from Heaven, he cannot help asking: Why was I given this money?
The answer is not always uniform. It varies according to individual circumstances. But one thing can be said for certain: money was not given arbitrarily, for no reason other than to spend it blithely. Not even a single penny. If a person possesses small jars, it is a sign that he needs them. Whatever their function, they exist to fill it, and surely their remaining on the opposite bank of the stream will not help them fulfill their intended purpose.
This, says HaGaon Hatzaddik R' Chaim Friedlander zt'l, is the reason that tzaddikim value their money more than their own bodies. They see their money as tools given to them from Heaven for a special purpose and function. This outlook on money evokes a certain love towards the object which helps them carry out their mission in life. It creates a relationship of value and respect.
The money is not money, per se, but a means, a medium to serve him and help him serve Hashem. Every penny is a part of the composite of means at his disposal. "Yaakov knew that the jars belonged to him and belonged to his soul, and were created specifically for him. Therefore, he was willing to sacrifice his life for them" (Pri Tzaddik).
Theft, then, is the very antithesis of this outlook on worldly possessions, explains R' Chaim Friedlander. The term `theft' includes many divisions and definitions. It is not only armed robbery, or even theft in stealth. Gezel means utilizing money that was not slated for you, for your own purposes.
A broader extension goes so far as to include borrowing from Yankel to pay Berel, from one gemach to another, if the initial loan was not justified. If you don't absolutely need the money, it means that it was not designed for your use to begin with; it was not destined for your lot. If so, why are you usurping its use?
When Yaakov had to contend with Eisov for the rights of the Me'oras Hamachpela, he displayed a lavish outlay of money. "See," writes Orchos Tzaddikim, Shaar Tzikonus, "a man as wealthy as Yaakov was an unparalleled skinflint. He forgot a few insignificant jars and went back to retrieve them. And yet, we find elsewhere that he was a nonpareil spendthrift. In his confrontation with Eisov, Yaakov took all of the money he had earned in Lovon's home and heaped it up high like a haystack and said to Eisov, `Take this in payment for your portion of the Me'oras Hamachpela.' Can anything be more lavishly indiscriminate?"
This is the best possible example for a proper attitude towards money. One whose money is dear to him because he loves it, will not be capable of giving up all of his gold and silver, the product of twenty-two years of toil under an employer who redefined his salary one hundred times! He will haggle and bargain with all his might and perhaps, in the end, his money will prove to be dearer to him than his very soul. This is how Chazal described bechol me'odecho Jews, people who can actually love their money more than their own selves. This is why "with all your soul" precedes "with all your might/means" in the Shema. People willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their money do, actually, exist.
Yaakov also cherished his money, to the point that he was not willing to sacrifice small jars. He regarded his money and possessions as gifts from Hashem, items with a designated purpose in this world. Means, tools to serve Hashem. As such, they had great value and could not be discarded.
This is precisely why, when a spiritual need arose to acquire the Me'oras Hamachpela, that nothing stood in his way, no price was too great. All the gold and silver he had earned in Lovon's house now became the means to acquire something worth far more to him. It no longer had any value for him outside that of getting what was far more precious to him. And so, it was no sacrifice whatsoever for him to pile it up and tell Eisov to take it all.
It is very important for us to review this lesson repeatedly.
Ours is an affluent society, an acquisitive generation where buying has lost all proportion to need. People buy and buy big. They buy for the sake of buying, shop for the fun of shopping. The malls are an end unto themselves, a form of entertainment and recreation. No one makes shopping lists any more -- they just go out and wait to be wooed and tempted into buying. They are receptive and intentionally gullible. It is a consumer psychology upon which big money is invested, where needs are created, then advertising takes over. Need is no longer a factor. People are waiting and ready to be convinced to buy.
Tzaddikim, believers, those who trust in Hashem and not in their business skills, are keenly aware of the truth that their money was not acquired by their own toil. It was G- d-given, and given for a definite purpose. And out of their strong awareness of the great potential latent in that money, they appreciate it and watch over it.