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Having a Lot Is Not Enough

June 27, 2020

It’s difficult to imagine the pain that Moshe must have felt when he was told that he would not be allowed to enter the land of Israel. He had devoted his life to leading Bnai Yisrael out of Egypt and through the sea, receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, building the mishkan, and the final stage of the journey was supposed to be bringing the Jewish people into our homeland. His disappointment is highlighted at the beginning of Parshat Vaetchanan, when he recounts, “ואתחנן אל ה' בעת ההיא לאמר, and I implored Hashem at that time saying. (Devarim 3:23)” He tells Bnai Yisrael how he had begged Hashem to change His decision and allow him to enter the land. Chazal elaborate on the desperation of Moshe’s prayer. They explain that ואתחנן in gematria (the system by which each Hebrew letter is assigned a number value) equals 515, indicating that Moshe prayed for this 515 times! They describe how Moshe pleaded with Hashem, and offered to be transformed into an animal if that would allow him to scurry his way into the land on all fours. And, of course, sadly, in the end the answer remains no.

Hashem, however, doesn’t just say “no,” but explains, “רב לך אל תוסף דבר אלי עוד בדבר הזה, it is enough for you, do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter. (Devarim 3:26)” It seems harsh, but Hashem was sending a very important message. The phrase רב לך, the opening words of Hashem's response, are the subject of much discussion in the commentaries (see Rashi who suggests two different interpretations). Today let’s study the explanation of the Daat Zekeinim, the great Rabbis who also authored the commentary of Tosafot on the Gemara. They explain, somewhat cryptically, that Hashem was telling Moshe:

ברב בשרת רב לכם בני לוי ברב בשרוהו רב לך, with [the word] רב (enough, or a lot) you informed, as in ‘it is enough for you the sons of Levi, (Bamidbar 16:7)’ and with [the word] רב you were informed, as in ‘it is enough for you. (Devarim 3:26)’”

In what seems to be a form of מדה כנגד מדה, consequences that are meted out measure for measure, the Daat Zekeinim link Hashem's response to Moshe, which begins with the words “רב לך,” with Moshe’s response to Korach and his followers, in this week’s parsha, which includes the phrase “רב לכם.” What is the connection between these two episodes?

Let’s begin with a familiar mishna. Ben Zoma teaches, “איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו, who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)” We generally think of this mishna in the context of material possessions. One can only experience true joy and wealth when he feels content with what he has, and is not constantly focused on what he lacks, or what his neighbor has more. But, in truth, this teaching applies equally to spiritual matters. Each person is born to his own parents, experiences a unique upbringing, is exposed to different teachers and role models, and is raised with a certain flavor of Torah and Judaism. We have all sometimes wondered or wished about what it would be like to have been born or raised in a different way. If I had learned more Torah when I was younger, then maybe I would be more interested in learning now. If I had been born in Israel, then maybe I’d feel more connected to my homeland. If had these parents or those kids, then I would be able to accomplish this or that, or have a home that looked a particular way. And Ben Zoma teaches us that one is only truly wealthy when he feels satisfied and fortunate to have his particular and unique lot, both in material and in spirit.

This week in our Tuesday night siddur class, we studied and discussed one of the most beautiful berachot that we say each morning: “ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם שעשה לי כל צרכי, blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who provides me with my every need.” And in that context, we referenced how Chazal contrast the attitudes of Yaakov and Eisav. At their encounter after years apart, Eisav proclaims, “יש לי רב, I have a lot (Bereishit 33:9),” and a mere two verses later Yaakov counters, “וכי יש לי כל, for I have everything. (Bereishit 33:11)” Our Sages explain that when Eisav declared “I have a lot,” he was implying that I have amassed much, but not all that I need. He owned much wealth, but he was not, in fact, wealthy. Yaakov, on the other hand, was comfortable in retorting, “I have everything.” Yaakov understood and felt that he truly had all that he needed, and, in the words of King David, “ה' רעי לא אחסר, Hashem is my shepherd, I shall not lack. (Tehillim 23:1)” We are taught to emulate Yaakov, to train ourselves to truly believe that שעשה לי כל צרכי, He really does provide me with all of my needs, and there is nothing I lack. That breeds a feeling of true wealth.

At the beginning of Parshat Korach, Korach and his followers verbally attack Moshe, claiming that he has grabbed the positions of authority and leadership for himself and his family. He is the leader, Aharon is the Kohen Gadol; what about everybody else?! Aren’t we holy too?! And Moshe tells him, “ רב לכם בני לוי,  it is enough for you the sons of Levi. (Bamidbar 16:7)” He uses that same word, רב, that Eisav has used to describe his own circumstances. In effect, Moshe was telling Korach, why are you acting like Eisav? You have so much, and if you would just focus on what you do have, rather than obsessing over what you don’t have, you’ll be much happier! Don’t view your lot as רב, as merely a lot, but as כל, for you truly do have everything you need!

Years later, Moshe, on his own level, makes a similar mistake. He begs Hashem to go into Israel; he pleads, beseeches, and implores. 515 times according to Chazal! And Hashem has to remind him: Remember years ago when you told Korach, “רב לכם?” I must share the same message with you: “רב לך אל תוסף דבר אלי עוד בדבר הזה, it is enough for you, do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter. (Devarim 3:26)” You too, Moshe, are displaying the quality of רב, knowing that you have a lot, but focusing too much on that which you don’t. You have everything that you need, and though it may be hard to understand, entering Israel is not something that is right for you.

We are all well aware that we have a lot. We live during times and in a place when most of us have plenty, baruch Hashem. But knowing that we have a lot is not enough. We must follow the lead of Yaakov and internalize the truth that, יש לי כל, I have everything that I need. I have all of the money, resources, and physical possessions that I need, and my spiritual, religious, and emotional circumstances is also tailor made just for me. I was born into the family, went to the school, and experienced Judaism in the exact way that Hashem knows was best for me. What do I do with that now? Where do I head from here? Well, that part is up to me. But I always know that no matter what I choose and where I head- שעשה לי כל צרכי, Hashem always has and always will provide me with my every need, and I can confidently declare that, יש לי כל, I truly do have everything.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781