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8 Kislev 5763 - November 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Self-Sufficiency - Histapkus

by Rav Yerachmiel Kram

"And He give me bread to eat and a garment to wear..." (Bereishis 28:20)

In his request, Yaakov Ovinu enumerates the purpose of the bread and the clothing. He stresses that his wish for bread is to eat and for clothing to be worn. This is in spite of the fact that it seems so obvious and thus superfluous -- for why else would a person want bread, if not to consume it? And what can he do with another garment if he does not need to wear it?

However, it seems that some people utilize a garment for purposes beyond simple, conventional dress. They need various costly garments, in fashionable colors and captivating styles. They do not suffice with what they already have but need and desire what their eye covets.

This is certainly not the attribute of Yaakov, for all he requests is food to satisfy his basic hunger; no more. Suffice him what he needs to consume at the particular time of his hunger; he does not seek to accumulate stores of it, to stockpile it in his granaries. Furthermore, even when all he asks is for his creature needs, he only requests the simplest of food: the staple nourishment -- bread, for if he has bread, he can eat and be satisfied. If he has a garment, he can wear it for protection from the elements. More than that, he does not need or require.


Sufficiency with the bare essentials is one of the signs of purity; with the converse being completely valid.

A sign that characterizes the non-kosher creature, the birds which we are forbidden to eat, is the fact of their being birds of prey. And this very fact reflects upon their inability to be satisfied with subsistence level.

In complete contradistinction are the ruminant animals which chew their cud and are permissible for us to eat. These animals consume small amounts of food, and regurgitate it to chew it over and over again. They are satisfied with the little they have and do not seek more than they need to subsist on.

The second sign of kashrus, the split hoof, also indicates a sense of sufficiency with the minimum. Kosher animals lack claws with which the predators hold on to their prey. They eat from the feedbag provided by their masters, whatever is measured out for them, and need not hold down a struggling victim.

The Difference Between Personal Consumption -- and Charity

When the righteous Yaakov prays for himself, he asks for no more than "bread to eat and a garment to wear." The wording teaches us that he asks for nothing beyond the little he truly requires for basic subsistence and protection from the elements. But when the Torah praises Hashem, it states, " . . . loves the convert to give him bread and a garment" (Devorim 10:18). Here we do not find the purpose stated for the bread or the garment, only a mere mention, sans their modifying designation. For the measure of sufficiency must emanate from the subject himself, whereas one who gives charity (as Hashem does in the posuk) must do so generously and from the choicest of his possessions. Here, the very opposite of frugality is required: lavish giving, both in quantity and quality.

The father of the mussar movement, HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, used to say: The Torah commands the borrower to repay his debt, as the gemora in Kesuvos (86) says: Paying a creditor is a mitzva. On the other hand, the creditor is warned by the Torah not "to be unto him a persistent claimant" (Shemos 22:24).

Each person must remember his particular role and obligation. If, however, they switch roles, and the borrower reminds the lender not to be insistent in reminding him of his debt, and the lender, in turn, prompts the borrower to repay it, then the purpose has been defeated. Each one must adhere to his particular obligation, so society can achieve fulfillment and harmony.

As mentioned, a person must strive for subsistence with the minimum for himself, but when it comes to giving to others, he must be generous and magnanimous. This is the duty and the essence of a Jew. He must not switch the roles and sate his own belly to fullness, while preaching to others to be happy with what little they have.

Yaakov and Eisov

Yaakov's attribute is expressed in his approach to his encounter with Eisov. When he asks that Eisov accept his gift, he says, "Take, prithee, my tribute which I have sent to you, for Elokim has graced me and I have all [I need]." Yaakov declares that he has whatever he needs. True, there are still many things in this world which he does not possess, but he does not lack them. In contrast is Eisov who declares, "I have plenty" -- but not everything he desires.

Rashi comments: The difference lies in Yaakov's using a mode of modest address, whereas Eisov speaks boastingly, like one who says: look how much more I have than I actually need. But we can also understand this as previously: that Eisov admits to possessing a great deal, but this is not all that he aspires to. There are still many things he would wish to acquire; he is still lacking. He is not satisfied with what he already has but wants more and more. Yaakov, on the other hand, has exactly what he needs, is satisfied with it, and is not missing anything which he strives yet to acquire.

The Way of Torah

Lack of satisfaction with the minimum and the pursuit of the "good things in life," even those that are altogether permissible according to halacha, must lead to a deviation from the straight and narrow path.

According to the Gaon of Vilna, the source of all sin lies in coveting, in the desire for more and more possessions. When a person invests his thoughts in accruing material things, he must necessarily distance himself from the acquisitions of the soul, of the other world, beyond. Chazal revealed to us, "If a person will pray that Torah enter his innards, let him first pray that creature comforts not enter his body" for these deter a person from his avodas Hashem.

The Torah states it fully, "Instead of your not having served Hashem your G-d with joy and with good heart from all the bounty . . . " (Devorim 28:27). Not serving Hashem with joy is a direct result of "from all the bounty." (Rashi interprets in a different manner than the obvious one.)

Not only does subsistence-sufficiency lead a person to the life of the Hereafter, but it also earns for him life in this world. The mishna in Ovos states: "This is the path of Torah: bread dipped in salt shall you eat, a measured amount of water shall you drink and on the earth shall you sleep and a life of suffering shall you live. If you do this, fortunate are you in this world, and you will benefit in the World to Come" (6:4). It is easy to understand that this way of life promises a reward in the Hereafter. But what it innovates is the idea that this abstemious mode of life is also a guarantee for happiness in this world!

R' Aharon Kotler zt'l once tried to dissuade a student from leaving the Lakewood Yeshiva, even though his student promised to become a generous supporter when he struck it rich. "It is worth your while to remain," said R' Aharon. "And even if you believe that if you leave the yeshiva, you will gain Olom Habo by virtue of becoming a generous supporter of Torah, know that in leaving it, you will be forfeiting this world as well!"

Simply put, whoever pursues the path of Torah will be happy and content in this world, too.

Wealth is not necessarily a means to attaining happiness, serenity and peace of mind. A person can rejoice with a dry crust and a small measure of water, while one whose house is filled with the best, but suffers from a stomach ailment which prevents him from eating to his heart's content, is not a happy person. A person may have a wardrobe filled with custom-made clothing but he, himself, is writhing on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown.

A rich person, healthy in body, may enjoy every minute of his life and utilize his money for all the comforts of the world and yet, the one who toils in Torah and merits the crown of Torah is still more fortunate and happier than he.


A Benevolent Eye as a Means for Sufficiency with Little

The attribute of histapkus bemu'ot is a difficult one, for man, by nature, is an acquisitive being who wants more and more, out of envy. It would be easy for a person to be happy with his lot, if he did not see all that surrounds him and all the people who possess more than he.

But a benevolent, non-begrudging eye towards the good fortune of others translates into a sense of satisfaction and sufficiency with his own lot. When Rabbon Yochonon ben Zakkai told his students to go forth and see which is the best path for a person to cleave unto, R' Eliezer declared: A good eye (Ovos 2:9).

Rabbenu Ovadia of Bartenura comments, according to the Rambam, that this actually refers to histapkus. He notes: "Such is one who suffices with what he has and does not seek unnecessary things, and does not feel envy when he sees others with more than he has." For if he does not begrudge his neighbor, but is happy for his good fortune, he will achieve a feeling of contentment with his own lot and a sense of sufficiency with a minimum.

For most people, this is difficult. To gaze upon the success of one's fellow and to remain indifferent -- this is a trait that only a few can attain.

But even those who fall short of it can find a way to convince themselves to suffice with essentials. When Reuven thinks about Shimon who lives above him and has gained material wealth and social status -- things which he lacks -- he would do well to remember Levi and Yehuda, who live in the same building and are below him on the social and economic ladder. This very thought can bring him comfort and peace of mind and afford him a sense of relative accomplishment and wealth, for even if he is poor as compared to Shimon, still he is well- to-do in comparison to Levi and Yehuda.

This is how R' Akiva succeeded in reassuring his wife, Rachel, at the time that they were abject paupers, estranged from her father, the wealthy, prestigious Kalba Savua. Eliyohu Hanovi appeared to them in the form of a poor man begging for a bit of straw to use as bedding for the newborn infant to whom his wife had just given birth. Said R' Akiva to his wife, "See, here is a man who doesn't even have straw upon which to lie!" (Nedorim 50a)

The Ran and the Rosh note that Eliyohu Hanovi was especially sent from heaven to somewhat comfort R' Akiva and his wife from the travail and suffering of their poverty, living as they did in a barn. It must have been extremely hard for Rachel, having grown up in the lap of luxury in one of the wealthiest homes in Jerusalem. But the knowledge that there were others even worse off than she, in quarters that lacked even straw to lie upon, eased somewhat the sense of destitution and poverty.

If this was true with regard to such giants of spirit, we can surely apply the message to ourselves. And when we find ourselves prone to jealousy and envy, we would be advised to look at those who possess less than we, who are less fortunate than we are.

A Time for Envy

This outlook is fine when it comes to material possessions. But when we speak of spiritual acquisitions, we must turn our outlook upside-down. We must not think how wise and learned we are compared to Reuven, but how limited our knowledge next to Shimon's, for "the envy of the learned increases wisdom."

With regard to this, a person should always challenge himself with the question, "When will my deeds reach the level of my ancestors?" This does not necessarily refer to striving to the level of the Ovos, but to any spiritual attainment which one lacks.

One of the great figures of Chassidus taught that a person should always remind himself that there is "up in Heaven" as well as "on earth below." When a person strives for more spirituality and ascent, he must look above him, at those who have already attained great levels beyond his, and not suffice or be complacent with his own achievements in comparison to those still below him. He must strive upwards and keep those exalted people in his sights.

But when it comes to materialism, to earthly acquisitions, he is better off looking downwards, to those who do not even possess a bit of straw upon which to lie. Then he will repose happily even upon a mattress with a broken spring.

There is a well-known rule: material good is only evident when it is lacking. When we remind ourselves that others lack any particular comfort or amenity which we already possess, we will appreciate and be happy in that possession.

Sufficiency with Minimum as a Tool for Peace

The aspect of sufficiency with little and distancing oneself from extraneous luxuries is borne out each year by the body of the Jewish nation on Succos. Our people then all exit -- old and young alike -- and settle in for a week's time in flimsy, temporary lodgings. The succa is small and our dwelling in it is very erstwhile, provisory, like a traveler in a train cabin or a wayside inn. Such travelers are not sticklers for the best of conditions, for they see their stay as merely temporary. It would be petty and foolish to dwell on small details of comfort that are lacking. Sojourners en route realize that these lodgings are incidental, not permanent, and not to be compared with conditions in one's home. The journey is a transitory situation where inconveniences can be borne until one reaches one's destination.

When the Jewish people goes forth en masse to such lodgings, it is only natural that envy is diminished, there is less competition, less comparison -- and peace spreads. When a person lives in temporary quarters, in a traveling compartment, in a roofless shack, he pays little, if any, attention to the fact that his neighbor's living amenities may be somewhat better, since they are both outside, exposed to the elements for the week's duration. He can hold out for that amount of time.

This is why we pray, "Spread above us your canopy of peace," for peace and amity are bound up with the exodus of the people from their homes to their temporary lodgings. Thus, the succa is a virtual vessel containing peace, and the plea for peace which we make is termed "the succa of peace."

When a person lives his entire life with the sense of a temporary existence, of transition, when he internalizes the ethical message of the festival of Succos, then his contentment is complete and intact. He is able to live in harmony with his neighbors. He sees the world as something ephemeral, fleeting, something into which it is not worthwhile investing too much effort.

All of his resources are invested in developing and accoutering his permanent lodgings in Olom Habo, to the canopy that will shield and glorify him to a much greater degree than that of his fellow men who only furnished their material dwellings.

And he will be complacent with regard to his living conditions, and will love his fellow man even if his material status is greater. He will be beloved below and be pleasing above. The fact that his neighbor has nicer furniture and lives in greater physical comfort will not chase sleep from his eyes; it will arouse no envy on his part for he will be ever aware that life in this world is transitory, fleeting, as compared to eternity, comparable to the time one spends journeying before he reaches home. Of course, it is much greater than this.

It follows that one who has acquired this characteristic of self-sufficiency and is content with his material lot, has really gained the means to serenity and peace of mind. He has eliminated envy and thereby gained peace and brotherhood.

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