Yesh Li Kol

The stage has been set: two brothers, one who has threatened to kill the other, reunite. Jacob is afraid of his Esau’s plans of vengeance and bloodshed as well as of Esau’s entourage of four hundred people. In a cowardly, or perhaps practical, move he splits his camp in half so that there would be a surviving remnant should Esau wipe out the other half. Esau finds Jacob and approaches him, like a predator hunting his pray. Jacob bows down in submission, expecting his head to be chopped off. Instead, Esau hugs and kisses him, and the two of them cry.

The story could have ended there, a picture-perfect Hollywood “bromance”, and yet it does not. Jacob offers Esau a generous gift of hundreds of animals. Esau declines, stating יש לי רב, I have plenty.[1] Jacob does not stop there, however, beseeching his brother to take ברכתי, his blessing, stating that G-d has been merciful to him and יש לי כל, that he has everything.[2] With some cajoling, Esau accepts the gift.

Commentators have been interested in the difference between Esau stating “I have plenty” versus Jacob asserting “I have everything.” Rashi comments that Esau’s יש לי רב means that he has more than he needs. In other words, he is hoarding goods. Jacob, on the other hand, speaks from a point of satiation, יש לי כל, that he has enough because G-d has been gracious unto him.[3] The 16th century commentator Ephraim of Luntshitz provides a different take in his book Kli Yakar. According to him, Esau’s יש לי רב means that he does not have enough, as while he has a lot, he does not have everything. In contrast, Jacob’s יש לי כל means that he has very little, but he is satisfied with what he has.[4]

Both Rashi and Kli Yakar draw inspiration from Pirkei Avot, better known as the Ethics of the Fathers. Pirkei Avot contains numerous pithy aphorisms, one of which is איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו-Who is rich? One who is happy with what he or she has.[5] In accordance with Pirkei Avot, both Rashi and Kli Yakar see wealth not as economic acquisition but as peace of mind, being satisfied with one’s portion. This does not mean that one should ascribe to poverty or a level of basic subsistence but rather that he or she should not be solely focused on acquiring more money or property.

As we approach Hanukkah, which has for better and for worse become a gift-giving season, I hope that each of us will take time to think of the gifts that make us rich: our friends, our families, work, health, community and so much else. To be like Jacob and proclaim יש לי כל, I have everything that I need right in front of me, is very difficult to do in this world which is constantly producing new gadgets and gizmos. There are always new excursions to take, new products to buy and new ways to renovate one’s home. On Shabbat especially, when we are commanded to take a step back and revel in all of the blessings that G-d has bestowed upon us, let us proudly state יש לי כל, we have all of the gifts that we need.  May we appreciate all the gifts that have been bestowed upon us on the individual, familial and communal levels, including our role in being part of the JJC family, and may it lead us to feel the peace and inner well-being communicated by our patriarch Jacob.

[1] Genesis 33:9

[2] Genesis 33:11

[3] Rashi on Genesis 33:11 ד”ה יש לי כל

[4] Kli Yakar on Genesis 33:9 ד”ה ויאמר עשו יש לי רב

[5] Pirkei Avot 4:1

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s