What is enough?
Twenty-two years have passed since Jacob ran from his brother, Esau. Jacob has had a good life, with a few bumps along the way. Working for his father-in-law, Laban, he earns the right to wed – twice. The first time he is deceived by Laban and Leah, not his beloved Rachel, becomes his bride. Jacob continues working and amassing wealth, and eventually weds Rachel. Besides his two wives, he has two concubines, eleven sons and one daughter. Circumstances change, however, when Rachel gives birth to her first son, Joseph. Jacob pleads with Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served you, and let me go: for you know how much work I have done for you” (Vayishlach, Genesis 30:26). But Laban turns out to be greedy and unethical, making the situation difficult for Jacob. This is not the environment in which he wishes to raise his family, nor the values he hopes they will embrace. When Laban begins to lecture Jacob about how much he has done for him and his family and how he should be indebted to him, we find out what matters most to Jacob when he replies to Laban, “You shall not give me anything…” (Genesis 30:31).
“I have everything.”
The next trial Jacob faces is meeting Esau for the first time since he stole his brother’s birthright and blessing. Naturally, Jacob is scared. He realizes that while the blessing cannot be returned, he hopes an offering of material compensation, which greatly reduces his own wealth, will ease what he fears most – Esau’s revenge. To Jacob’s offering of gifts, Esau replies, “I have ample [wealth] (“yeish li rav”), my brother. Let what you have remain yours” (Genesis 33:9). Jacob persists, “Take back my blessing. God has been good to me. I have everything.” (“yeish li kol”)” (Jerusalem Bible, Genesis 33:11)
Material and Spiritual Abundance
The commentators note the use of two different terms referring to large, more than sufficient quantities: “rav” and “kol.” “Rav” refers to material possessions – of which Esau has in abundance. But “kol” implies overall wealth – here, both material and spiritual. Just as Laban’s need for material wealth is insatiable, Esau finds that no amount of wealth can fill the void in his life. Jacob, despite the many challenges of his life, can appreciate the power of wealth even as he understands that such power can be given or taken away.
In the “season of gift giving,” it is worth considering the “rav” and “kol” in our lives. We can choose to redirect our financial resources to providing material resources for those truly lacking. In doing so, we deepen our sense of “kol” – the deep spiritual experience of feeling we have more than we need.
Redirecting Our Resources
Together, a generous redirecting of our resources will raise others up with dignity and hope. And that is the true light we can kindle to lessen the profound darkness created when there simply isn’t enough.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi