By A. Simantov
Kohelet states, “A person whom God gives wealth and possessions and honor does not lack anything, but God does not let him rule or control his wealth; this is futility and evil.” Rashi states that this refers to the person who is not satisfied with what he has but always wants more. He does not rule over his wealth; rather his money and wealth rule over him. This, Kohelet says, is “futility and evil.” By contrast, Avraham and Eliezer were able to rule over all that was theirs; they were not ruled by wealth but used their wealth to perform mitzvoth. As most of us know, Avraham was famous for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality to strangers) and used his means for this purpose.
The Grace After Meals (Bircat HaMazon), states “…mercy, life, peace and all good; and all good things may He never deprive us.” The question arises: why do we have the double language of “and all good; and all good…” We are asking that God gives us kol tov (everything good), and that this goodness should not make us less of a mench, i.e., that we should have control over this wealth and not, God forbid, have the wealth control us.
A related observation regarding one’s ‘take’ on life can, perhaps, be gleaned from Rashi’s commentary on Sarah. The last words of the possuk state that “Sarah’s years were good.” How can this be? The famine forced Avraham to go with her to Egypt, only to be seized to become Pharaoh’s wife, followed by the same thing happening much later with Avimelech in Gerar. In addition, it was not until the age of 90 that she bore a child. Even her death came from anguish of learning suddenly that Avraham had almost offered up Yitzchak as a sacrifice. Rashi’s statement illustrates that for her, in her devotion and attachment to the Almighty, the years were equally good. None of these events had an adverse effect upon her piety and faith. For Sarah’s purpose in life, all her years were equally good, and she had no complaints against God!
From the Torah to your table
The Midrash states that a cloud hovered over the tent of Sarah during her lifetime. This cloud disappeared upon her death but reappeared when Rivkah married Yitzchok. Says Rabbi Ahron Soloveishik (“The Warmth and the Light,” page 53) on this midrash: “Cloudy days are generally unpleasant days and are representative of hard times. The cloud which hovered over our mothers’ tent, then, symbolized the sacrifices that each member of a Jewish household must make for one another. Every home inevitably experiences its share of difficult periods during which the real strength of a family’s bond is tested. In order to maintain and preserve the ideal Jewish home, all of its members must be giving of themselves for the benefit of others.”
Thus the Torah is teaching us to (apologies to Nancy Reagan!) “Just say no!” to despair. In fact, Sefer Mishlei teaches us that a good heart is always celebrating. Complaining or worrying in matters is against the idealism of the Torah. When it rains, we are exhorted to think of the benefits and not automatically complain. Accept the changing seasons for the many benefits that they, too, provide, and accept change in circumstances. And, lastly, be samayach (happy) in the joys of life like brissim, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, graduations, promotions, etc. Think of each day as a tasteful delight prepared by God for you, alone!
A final thought
Rav Avigdor Miller illustrates the importance of realizing the value of the gifts that God has bestowed upon us through the following parable: Imagine getting a telephone call from the previous owner of your home who informs you that many years ago, when he lived there, he buried a treasure in the basement. Now he is nearing the end of his life and would like you to have it. All of a sudden, you are wealthy! In actuality, you were wealthy all along. All you lacked was the knowledge that you owned valuable possessions.
This month’s Torah portions
Nov. 3: Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24)
Nov. 10: Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)
Nov. 17: Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
Nov. 24: Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:2)