My husband and I went to a rare book fair on Sunday. In addition to the books themselves (and the exorbitant price tags), I was fascinated by the collectors. There were booths manned by store owners from England (many from London), Austria, Germany, Denmark, France as well as numerous states of America and small towns in California. It was really an eclectic group drawn together by their love of collecting books. Or was it?

Observing the sellers and buyers and just plain browsers turned into an occasion to muse about the nature of collecting. Why were all these people here? And did they really have anything in common? Further exploration revealed that an affinity for buying and selling rare books may be completely disconnected from a love of literature. It’s a job. It’s a niche. It brings in an income. Some people collect as an investment, for the money or power or privilege that it seems to bring.

Some people collect to belong. There was clearly a sense of camaraderie among the group, a sharing of resources and ideas – and snack foods. Whatever one collects, it is usually possible to find at least one other person with the same hobby and the collecting creates a new and unique bond.

I think some may collect as an aide to memory. I have friends who collect those souvenir shot glasses from every place they visit. I wish I had chosen something like that. In the days before our phones were crowded with pictures, this would have been a convenient way to remind me of past experiences and pleasures. It’s a quick fix and a simple catalyst for a trip down memory lane.

Some collectors want to preserve their past – the collective not the personal and some just enjoy the hunt. The motivations are probably as diverse as the collectors themselves. But I do think that there are two deeper issues at play, issues worth examining more closely and trying to understand within ourselves.

We may collect to exert some control over our chaotic lives. Here, in this small space I have created, is an orderly arrangement of things. I determine which things. I decide the order. It’s up to me and me alone to choose to rearrange. This provides me with comfort and solace; this creates an order in a seemingly disordered world.

And lastly (though not perhaps exhaustively), I think that we collect to create some sense of immortality. Just as some may choose to “live on” through naming a building, others choose collections – stamps and coins and guns and pottery – items that will outlast our limited and fleeting existence, items that may have come from the past and will extend into the future.

It’s the latter two motivations that I believe are cause for concern. I am not immune to the desire for control (as my husband will gladly testify!) but I recognize its folly. NOTHING in our lives is within our control – except our own choices. Everything else is in the Almighty’s hands and there is nothing gained (and much lost) by maintaining the illusion that we have greater say in the outcome than we actually do. And, in fact, it’s very freeing once we actually let go and recognize this. If something doesn’t go the way we would like, it’s good and exactly what the Almighty wants and if something does go the way we would like, the same is true. No collection, no matter its rarity and value, will change this.

And, of course, no collection, nothing in this material world, will ward off death. Our bodies will ultimately wither. Immortality is only gained through activities that nourish our soul – through mitzvot and connecting to God. Collecting – and even hoarding – may provide a temporary fix but our only real hope and security lies in our spiritual lives, not our material ones. As with all such insights, easier said than done. (Have you seen my wall(s) of hamsas or my 900-strong cookbook collection??!)