This week’s Torah reading has Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) calling upon the Israelites to donate towards the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert (Exodus 25:1-8). They responded by giving liberally. Each person gave as much as he wanted of what he had. Almost overnight, the Israelites donated more than enough of the necessary raw materials (ibid., 36:5-7). Since they gave generously, let us talk about two contrasting types of “openhandedness.”
Your ordinary, average human being feels that he’s missing something, or that he needs something. (If he doesn’t, there’s a whole industry devoted to making him think that he needs exactly what they him to buy.) Sometimes that feeling comes from something that the body craves to see, hear, smell, taste or touch. A person may imagine that owning something or achieving some form of status will confer upon him some sort of worth.
These feelings of lack make each of us very susceptible to one of the yetzer hara’s (evil inclination’s) most successful ploys. The yetzer hara is like a prankster who runs through a crowd while showing his tightly closed hand. No one knows what he is holding. He fools people by asking everyone, “What am I holding? What am I holding?” Each of us imagines that the prankster is holding what he desires. So we run after him, certain that he is holding what we want. When the prankster finally opens his hand, it is completely empty. The expression “bitter disappointment” comes to mind.
Another form of this prank is a contemporary variation of a carnival shill. In order to get people at a carnival to gamble away their money, a shill would parade around with his supposed winnings. People would think that the games were easy to win and would end up wasting their money—and time—in a vain attempt to duplicate the shill’s success. Nowadays, a handful of the rich and famous are paraded in the (social) media so that millions waste their lives trying to strike it rich and/or become “the next big thing.” “Heaven protect us from this misleading notion!” (Shabbat 84b).
The yetzer hara tricks the entire world. One way or another, at some point, everyone runs after him. Each of us is so fooled by his notions and desires that he is tricked into thinking that the yetzer hara holds exactly what he wants. But when the yetzer hara opens his hand, it is empty. He satisfies no one’s desire.
Now, let’s take a look at that other openhandedness we referred to earlier. Whether we realize it or not, the eyes of all living beings (not just humans, but birds and animals, too) look to God with the hope that He will provide what they lack. For all sorts of reasons—our unreadiness to properly receive and use what we would be given is one of them—even what we need may be late in coming, according to our reckoning. Yet, “You open Your hand and satisfy every living being with ratzon (will, desire)” (Psalms 145:16). King David tells us that when God opens His hand, we are not disappointed.
I can almost hear someone asking, “Really? So where’s my Lexus and overflowing bank account?” The answer is: Is that really what you want? Given a choice between a Lexus and being able to get out of bed in the morning on your own, which would you prefer? Given the choice between “having more and enjoying it less” and “having less, but enjoying it more,” which would you choose? Because the prankster is so good at his job, we confuse what we want—what would be nice to have—with what we really want, namely, what we need—material, psychological and spiritual satisfaction.
So before we set off in the pursuit of happiness, let’s remember to examine what it is that we really want and Who is the One that can really deliver it.
a gutn Shabbos!
—Based on Sichot HaRan (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom) #6 and #284