Each week the leadership of our school takes the time to study Torah. Our focus this year is on tefilla, the daily prayers, and we are currently studying the morning blessings. The purpose of the morning blessings is to wake us up spiritually and to enable us to be thankful for the blessings we have.
This week we discussed the following bracha:
“Blessed are you our God, King of the Universe, who has given me all that I need.”
This is a wonderful, idealistic blessing. But the question we have to ask ourselves is: do we truly believe that we have all that we need in life?
Being content with one’s lot is a struggle for all of us. In particular, as parents and educators it is a challenge to communicate this idea to our children, as prosperity and privilege make it increasingly difficult to convey this lesson to them. How do we tell our children that we are “thankful for everything we have”, when we turn around and line up at the mall at 4am for Black Friday? The Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays transmit the idea that we need to rush and grab this opportunity to fill what’s missing from our lives with a few well priced bargains.
But the idea of being content with one’s lot is an important one; and the struggle has existed since the beginning of mankind. In this week’s parsha Vayishlach, twin brothers Jacob and Esau are reunited. Esau has been angry at Jacob for 20 years, and Jacob sends an advance party with with a large quantity of gifts to soften Esau’s anger and hatred. They finally meet, and patch up their differences.
During this encounter, there is a very revealing exchange between the two brothers. Esau refuses the gifts that Jacob sent; and Jacob responds by insisting Esau take the gift. What is fascinating about the exchange is the way their arguments are phrased. Esau says: “yesh li rav’ (33:9)” “I have much” to Jacob, and keep that which is yours. Jacob replies, please accept my gift, “v’chi yesh li kol (33:11)” – “because I have everything”.
The Kli Yakar explains that Esau says he had “much”- “rav”, because people who are focused on materialistic pleasures never feel they have it all; no matter how much they have, they always feel like there’s something more they can get. Jacob, on the other hand, uses very different language – “yesh li kol” – “I have it all”. This is a remarkable feeling of being content: Yesh li kol! – I have it all!
Jacob’s way is far more spiritual, but also far healthier as well. Recent psychological studies continue to tell us the message that happiness and satisfaction result not from what we have but rather, from how we deal with and view that which we have.
This is similar to the meaning of the morning bracha. If we can wake up each day and see the blessing of having all our needs met, then we will be able to live that day to the fullest. The challenge for us is to truly believe this in our hearts and not be swayed by the bombardment of messages telling us we need to buy just one more thing to make us truly happy. (This is a difficult idea to remember, particularly when the holiday season comes around and everyone around us is making gift lists!)
And then, we need to be able to be model and teach this idea to our children. The material blessings we have are a gift; if we can show our children we are happy with what we already have, then we will feel the satisfaction of “having it all”.