Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude with Yaffa Palti
One beautiful fall evening, after the sun had set, Jacob is out walking with his family across the Yabok River when he suddenly makes an about-face and goes back across the river to retrieve a few small vessels that he had accidentally left there.
When Jacob arrives at the other side, he is standing there alone. Suddenly, the angel of his enemy twin, Esau, appears out of the blue and attacks him.
Now, Jacob and Esau are virtually at war with each other. The real Esau, not his angel, is approaching with an army of 400 warriors.
How did Jacob allow himself to be caught in such a vulnerable position? Didn't he know that he can't be alone at night when He Who Must Not Be Named is in power!? What was little, innocent Jacob doing all by himself on the other side of the river?
The verse tells us that he went back for the pachim k'tanim, the little vessels he left behind.
So basically, he risked getting beaten to a pulp to retrieve his worthless little bottles? He was willing to give up his life for the 5 cent refund?! And what was the real meaning of the fight between them?
Regarding the commandment of lo sachmod (do not covet), Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1089-1167, Spain) addresses a valid point.
He talks about the nature of human psychology and the way we think: “Hey, I'm human. If I see something I like, I want it.”
Now, I'm not promoting kleptomania. We have no right to rob someone of what they have, but we definitely will desire one of my own. It's an instinctive feeling that can't be controlled. So if it’s human nature, how can there be a prohibition in the Torah of lo sachmod commanded to human beings?
Let's travel back to a time and place much different ours. In times of old, people were split into two categories: the Aristocrats, high and mighty snobs who would rather die than make eye contact or say a word to the second category, the Peasants. They were farmers who toiled and labored all day.
They also had kings. Today, when we hear the word king we think of the one in a deck of cards or on a chess board. We can't understand the full importance and power of a king, since that concept doesn’t exist in our lives. But, if Aristocrats were snotty and high, imagine how the king was.
Now, what do you think would happen if Yentel the Shadchan (matchmaker) called up Old McDonald the farmer and proposed a prospective marriage partner to him, the daughter of King John Paul the 82nd?
The princess?! No way! It wouldn't even cross his mind to marry the princess. He doesn’t even desire to marry the princess. He knows it's completely out of his range. When something is out of our league, we don't even want it because we know it's impossible.
People who understand that the world runs on hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) know that everything they have was given to them by G-d for a reason. And anything else is simply beyond their range. They don’t need it and they shouldn’t even want it.
I never buy clothing marked "one size fits all." Aside from the fact that "one size fits all" is always one size too small on me (seriously, who do they use as the measuring stick?), I like to buy clothing that fit me perfectly. Even if I find the most beautiful outfit, if the fit is wrong, it looks awful.
Everything we have in our lives – our families, appearance, personality, brains, money, jobs, whatever it may be – Hashem custom-makes for us individually. All of our life circumstances are made just to our size. A perfect fit. To think that I would be better off with more or less of anything would be like buying "one size fits all," and ruining the perfect look.
A few years ago when I was teaching seminary girls who lived on campus in a dormitory, I surprised two of my students who were hard workers and deserved a vacation. I bought them tickets to two vastly different but equally exciting places in the world. Chana was going to Florida, and Rivka was going to Alaska.
I told them each to pack what they needed for their trips, and I'll meet them outside the dorm. I waited … and waited … and waited … but no one emerged. Who wouldn’t take me up on such an offer? Going inside to see what was causing the delay, I couldn't believe what I saw. Chana had gone to spy on Rivka to see what she put into her suitcase. “A scarf? Boots? I don't have those in my suitcase!” and she flew to her room to throw hers in.
Well, Rivka, then noticed Chana's swimsuit and sunscreen and immediately went and added her own to her suitcase. This went on and on, until believe it or not, Chana was ready for her vacation in Florida with her earmuffs and boots, while Rivka was off to Alaska with her flip flops and snorkel.
If I don't like what's in my life suitcase, then whose problem is it?
If I don’t like what’s in my suitcase then I’ve got a problem with the Packer! The bottom line in the middah (character trait) of kinah (jealousy) is, “I believe I should have that,” which, in essence, means,“I don’t think G-d knows what He’s doing.”
The underlying cause of jealousy, therefore, is a lack of bitachon (trust that G-d runs the world in our best interest).
People who are satisfied with each aspect of heir life are happy with the suitcases that were packed for them. They appreciate clothing that fits them properly, they are sameyach b'chelkam (happy with their lot). They have achieved a proper level of bitachon. They wouldn't even desire what someone else has.
Jacob had so much appreciation for every aspect of his life. Each and every article he possessed was a special gift from God. Yes, even those pachim k'tanim. Even those cheap, seemingly invaluable vessels. They were so valuable to him that he risked his very life to protect them.
The Midrash teaches that Esau stole the begadim chamudim (precious clothing) of Adam from evil king Nimrod. What causes a person to steal?
A person only steals when he feels he's lacking something. That’s Esau.
The fight between Jacob and the angel of Esau wasn’t just physical. There would be no point; no one was watching. It was a deeper, spiritual, philosophical war.
Esau, who felt incomplete, who always desired more, who needed to fill his void through thievery was trying to beat the sameyach b'chelko out of Jacob.
And Esau was too chicken to do it himself. He came to create a peace process by going to meet Jacob, inappropriately bringing along 400 armed men, but even with that whole army, Esau knew he could never defeat a man who was sameach b'chelko.
Let’s all take out just 60 seconds each day to find and appreciate one little thing in our lives and say out loud, "Thank you Hashem for _________," so we can build our trust in G-d and eliminate all envy from our lives.
Yaffa Palti is a JWRP City Leader for Comunidad Sefardi in Mexico City, Mexico.