Parshas Vayishlach – Material Mania!

Crowded Store‘Tis the season to be materialistic.

You can’t get away from it. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Sensational Super Sale Sunday (okay, no such thing — I made it up). From two weeks before Thanksgiving until a week after New Year’s we are bombarded from every angle and venue with offers that we are told we simply just CAN’T REFUSE.

The glitzy emails. The Internet ads. The commercials with cheerful holiday music. The circulars, credit card inserts, newspaper ads . . . all full of offers for things that we really don’t need, know we can’t afford, yet are absolutely sure that we MUST HAVE.

While I hate to sound like the Grinch who stole Chanukah (or Xmas or Kwanza or Festivus, for the Seinfeld fans), the truth is that this non-stop barrage of materialism is not as innocent as it may seem. The Rabbis teach us that  an over-emphasis on the material results in a dulling of our spiritual senses, and leads to lust, greed, and envy, guaranteeing  a lack of happiness in this world and the next.

The Rabbis pose the question: Who is truly rich?  The answer: Only one who is happy with what s/he has (without the need for the latest and greatest gadget). (See Avot 4:1 and 4:28).

Note that the Rabbis don’t ask who is most praiseworthy, most spiritual, etc., but rather who is truly rich. This refers not to some ethereal state, but to the here and now. Being satisfied with what one has leads to enhanced pleasure and satisfaction; running after material things leads to disappointment and frustration.

In this week’s Torah portion we read of the meeting of our patriarch Jacob with his evil twin, Esav. Esav at first refuses to take the gift that Jacob offers him and haughtily proclaims, “I have plenty.” Ultimately his greed overtakes him and he accepts it. For the wicked there is never enough, and nothing will satisfy their thirst.

Jacob, on the other hand, says simply “I have everything.” The righteous, no matter how much or how little they actually have, feel that they have everything they could possibly need.

So even if G-d has blessed you with material plenty, enjoy it in moderation, use it to help others, and celebrate life – especially on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals, which call for good food and physical pleasure.

But don’t make it a goal in and of itself – you will never be content. The advertisers want you to think that the latest gadget will make you happy, but it can’t provide real satisfaction.

It’s hard to find gifts for some people, because “what do you buy someone who has everything”? True happiness is being like the patriarch Jacob – whatever you have, whether a little or a lot, you will truly have “everything.” It may not make the advertisers happy, but it will make your life happier and more meaningful.

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