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Enough Is (Not) Enough!

Enough Is (Not) Enough!

When do we ever feel we truly have enough?

by

My son's favorite dessert is mint brownies. As a three-year-old with a voracious appetite, he can easily down 15 mint brownies in one sitting. But after two of them, I step in and gently remove the plate from the table, telling him, "You've had enough." But in his mind, that's not true; he could easily eat ten more. In fact, he could probably consume the entire tray of them without feeling that he's had "enough." Why?

Because "enough" is a wily word. "Enough clothing," "enough money," "enough chocolate" -- as much as we have, we always want more.

There's a reason why Enough is so elusive. God created mankind with dissatisfaction built into our very nature. Because as soon as we get complacent, as soon as we feel we're "there," we don't move forward. Thus, not being able to get satisfied, to feel "enough," is all part of the Masterplan -- when it is utilized to motivate us to do more, become more, and strive higher.

Trying to fill our emptiness with anything other than spiritual pursuits is like trying to plug a round hole with a square cork.

But when we fall into the trap of material "enoughs," we risk becoming depressed, jealous, and sucked into the rat-race of trying to feel "full" when we are really running towards empty. God doesn't intend for us to satisfy ourselves with a perfect spouse, job, necklace, or flip-flops. Therefore, trying to fill our emptiness with anything other than spiritual pursuits is like trying to plug a round hole with a square cork. But it is so much easier to try to fill the void with another pair of shoes than doing acts of kindness or reading the weekly Torah portion.

The tragedy of Enough is that it's never enough. I keenly feel this whenever I go shopping or even flip through a catalog. My materialism is in direct conflict with my spirituality. It is my corporeal self that cries out for more and more, while my soul -- a tiny voice -- says: "Nothing else you purchase, eat, or indulge in will make you truly happy. Only appreciating what you have and doing God's will ensure serenity and happiness."

Interestingly, it is the way in which we perceive Mr. Enough that determines whether he is truly attainable or merely a charlatan that keeps us hungry for more. In looking at the Hebrew word for enough - maspik -- we can see the same letters that spell safek - the Hebrew word for "doubt." Perhaps therein lies the key. If the person looks outside of what he has and focuses instead on what he "needs," then it is doubtful that he will have enough. Instead, he brings upon himself the curse of the bottomless "enough." But if that very same person seeking "enough" is happy with what he has, then he bypasses all doubt and feels what he has is truly enough. It all depends on the viewer's outlook.

Our market-driven society certainly wants us to buy in to the "never enough" phenomenon. This is especially apparent in a large chain of department stores that I sometimes patron. The aisles feature brightly-colored posters hanging from the ceiling above the women's clothing and accessories department. Each huge card features one of two words: Need and Want. Below the words are smiling women holding jewelry, sweaters, scarves. The overall implication is obvious: whatever you have is not enough; you need/want more.

A wonderful story I heard this week illustrates this point.

A man in Jerusalem decided to host a special meal known as a Seudat Hodayah, a Celebration of Thanks, to offer his gratitude to God for having survived a traumatic experience. As he made his way to the hall where the meal was to be held, he passed a lottery booth and his eyes lit up.

Ah ha! he thought. Today, I am making a special celebration where I give thanks to God for His infinite goodness. Presumably, it's a day of good fortune for me. Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket.

He promptly purchased a lottery ticket and eagerly scratched the foil.

And…he won!

Two shekels--the cost of the ticket.

Okay, he thought, at least I won something.

The next year, on the anniversary of his good fortune, he again decided to buy a lottery ticket, following his previous year's rationale of the day being a prodigious one. Again, he scratched the ticket for the million shekel lottery.

And…he won!

Two shekels -- the cost of the ticket.

This time, he just couldn't shrug his shoulders and forget about the incident. It seemed so uncanny that both times, on his day of good fortune, he had won, but only to recoup his two shekels. He went to a great Torah sage to ask for some insight on the matter.

The sage told him, "Perhaps God is showing you that you have enough. You don't need any more money. In fact, the only thing that you were missing when you purchased the tickets were the two shekels you used to pay for them and God ensured that that money would come back to you. You have everything you need. You have enough."

The ending was drastically different from what I'd expected. I was sure that the guy would have won the million shekels, and all would be right with the world. Instead, this man in Jerusalem was given a truly 'happily ever after' ending - he was given the gift of "enough."

Of course, like everything else in life, there's a delicate balance. Curtailing all shopping and financially lucrative opportunities would be obviously counterproductive. But if the "I want/need more" voice were to be cross-examined even for a millisecond instead of being readily obeyed, the effect might be surprisingly uplifting.

A "triple-complex" antidote comprised of self-awareness, gratitude, and inner fortitude goes a long way in combating the emptiness of not enough. There's a lot of cognitive restructuring involved ("I really DO have enough of ________"), and a conscious letting-go of wanting more. But the rewards promise to be fantastic. Not that I'm there, of course -- not by any stretch of the imagination. But it's enough that I'm trying.

Published: August 21, 2004


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Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Joey, April 6, 2009 10:28 PM

Very good article...I particularly found it interesting that in the story, it did not occur to the man that having been saved from a hard situation, he had already been given a blessing greater than money. May God help us all to gain the insight he did through his experiences, and thanks for this article!

(18) Simon Williams, March 4, 2009 8:28 AM

I thought this was a very good story.

When you have enough, you need to realise how to use 'enough' for the best.

(17) Anonymous, February 22, 2009 9:27 PM

response to bernie siegel

i think the message of this article was the opposite of what you stated: "when you are happy, you have enough"-it's actually when you recognize the fact you have enough, you are happy, "when you are not happy or trying to be a success, you never have enough"-it's actually when you think you never have enough, you are not happy. bottom line-eizeho ashir? hasameach b'chelko!

(16) ruth housman, February 22, 2009 4:52 PM

The Gift

I was gifted a great book, on Valentine's Day, called The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. I recommend this highly because it is very much related to the above discussion, about the rewards of materialism vs spirituality and how we gift ourselves and each other. It's such a great book I am going to gift my students in a class about spirituality a discussion of the contents of this book, particularly the chapter titled: The Labor of Gratitude.

(15) Bernie Siegel, February 22, 2009 9:25 AM

enough

when you are happy you have enough. when you are not happy or trying to be a success you never have enough.

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