"And He give me bread to eat and a garment to wear..."
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
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
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
The Difference Between Personal Consumption -- and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.