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Vayetzei(Genesis 28:10-32:3)

Appreciating the Simple Things in Life

Jacob, our Patriarch, was a holy man. We don't usually find holy people overly concerned with their physical well-being. Yet, in this week's Torah portion, read at first glance, it seems that we do.

Jacob rested at 'the place' (Genesis 28:11) on his way to Charan. Rashi tells us that this place where Jacob rested was the holy mountain of Moriah, the future site of the Temple. While sleeping on holy ground, Jacob is shown a prophetic vision involving heavenly angels, and is told by God:

I am Hashem, God of Abraham, your father, and of Isaac. The ground on which you sleep, I will give to you and to your children. Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, spreading out to the west, east, north and south. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through you and your children. Behold, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go and I will return you to this land. I will not forsake you until I have carried out what I have told you. (Genesis 28:13-15)

One would think that Jacob would be extremely inspired by this vision and sacred location. Therefore, we should find Jacob praying only for something like spiritual help and support as he faces new challenges in going away from Israel to Charan. Physical sustenance should be the last thing on his mind.

Yet Jacob includes in his prayers that he receive 'bread to eat and clothes to wear' (Genesis 28:22). Why is Jacob thinking about the mundane after such a spiritually transcending experience?

What's more, why does Jacob feel the need to explain the function of bread and clothes? God would know that bread is 'to eat' and clothes are 'to wear'.

The solution requires us to read the Torah more carefully.

* * *


Just as 2 + 2 never equals 5, we cannot accept things that do not make logical sense. It is impossible to understand that Jacob was sincerely interested in his physical well-being just after his amazing prophetic vision. It must be that in the very words that Jacob uses, we can discover the true meaning of his prayer.

Let's read the phrase again. Jacob asks for 'bread to eat and clothes to wear.' Why does he define the function of bread and clothes? It must be that he is stating his exact intentions of using these material objects. Jacob is saying that he only needs bread to eat. He does not need 57 kinds of potato chips. He does not scan the supermarket aisles for the latest flavor of soda. He simply wants bread, and only bread, if necessary, to eat. As long as he can eat enough to continue living in order to serve God and achieve his lofty, spiritual goals, he is satisfied.

Jacob is not searching for the latest fashions in designer suits. He just wants some clothes to wear so that he can function in the world. Hence, 'bread to eat' and 'clothes to wear'. No luxuries.

Through this short phrase, Jacob defines his priorities of life. Appreciate food for its function - physical sustenance. Do not make food a priority in your life. Don't spend your life running after possessions and clothing. Use and appreciate it for what it is, but don't let it occupy an important place in your mind and in your value system.

We often take basic physical pleasure for granted as we constantly run after new and improved pleasures and luxuries. There is much to enjoy even in the simple things of life. We don't need luxuries to enjoy the world.

* * *


There is a Yiddish story written solely about an orange. It is called The Morantz, "The Orange." The orange was received as a present on Purim in Russia. Oranges in that part of the world were rare in the 1800's. The first day people from all over town came to look at it. Wow! What an unbelievable sight!

The second day they came to smell it - an incredible aroma. The next day they peeled it, saving each piece of peel with care in order to make marmalade. Then they divided the sections of the orange and crushed it in their mouths, feeling the delicious juices. An incredible experience.

And then they had the marmalade that lasted for weeks. A memory for a lifetime - the Orange.

Most of the time, we hardly stop to even notice the blessing and the pleasurable taste of the food we are eating. Oftentimes, before we realize it, we are finished eating without having focused on an appreciation for the pleasure that God has given us.

Stop. Eat. Think. Appreciate. Thank God for His blessings. Even the ones we think are small and simple. That is the path of real holiness.

November 17, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, November 10, 2010 3:45 AM

I really liked this article. In these times of harsh financial turmoil, it is best to find the simple pleasures in a bountiful way. Even though, I find that I can do kindness that give me joy. If I did not, 15-18 women would not have as much. It is by G-d's grace that I can do these things. That joy, the ultimate joy, is liberating and fulfilling. I look forward to many more articles. Thank you.

(7) Ruby G., December 1, 2008 9:16 AM

Putting Needs in Perspective

BS"D I miss Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt"l so Rabbi Leff's weekly commentary in his name are so welcomed. On this particular commentary, on the heels of "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving in America, it's a good reminder of how to stay away from the lure of materialism -- even if it's difficult to do. Thank you. May you continue to give over the words of my Rebbe, of blessed memory and have nachas.

(6) ShariAncellKark, November 29, 2006 9:46 AM

consumerism vs mentschlekeit

Rabbi, during this time of year when Madison Avenue "pulls out all the plugs" your beautiful thoughts are more important than ever. Thank you!

(5) Kenneth R. Handschuh, November 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Well written and discussed

It was only last week that I started to read Rabbi Leff's commintaries. I believe they, so far for me, are the most thoughtfull, best written and rememberable of all the Torah discussions I read each week. Thank you for your hard work and insight.

(4) Shira Levin, November 25, 2001 12:00 AM

Asking G-d for the necessities of life

G-d is the one who truly satisfies. We should always rely on Him for as one of the morning blessings in the siddur states G-d provides our every need. After all He loves us and wants to sustain us. When He does we should be grateful.

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