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Posted on November 30, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

But Essav said, “I have a lot, my brother; let what you have remain yours.” Then Yaakov said, “Please no! If indeed I have found favor in your eyes, then you shall take my gift from my hand, because I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have accepted me. Now take my gift, which has been brought to you, for G-d has favored me, and I have everything.” … (Breishis 33:9-11)

I have everything: All my necessities. Essav, however, spoke haughtily, “I have a lot,” – much more than I need. — Rashi

We have a transcript of an actual dialogue, a “face to face” discussion between Yaakov and Essav. Some stunning distinctions between the thinking of these two are revealed in this brief exchange. Essav, in reference to his possessions declares, “Yeish li Rav” – “I have a lot”. In contrast, Yaakov’s attitude about what he possesses is expressed with the words, Yeish Li Kol” – “I have everything”. There is a world of difference implied there.

Rashi detects in Essav’s words an attitude of haughtiness. He is speaking, not atypically in terms of the quantity of his possessions. The Talmud tells us that if someone has 100 he wants 200. Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz pointed out a percentage point difference in another statement from the sages. It says, “A man does not die having fulfilled half of his desires.” One implies that a person has reached 50%, 100 is half of 200, while the other statement indicates that a person does not quite reach that 50% marker during his lifetime. How do we account for the differential?

One of my daughters was asking me all the time to take her to Marshals to get a new pair of shoes. One time I actually took a look at all the shoes in her shoe bag. She had more shoes than Marshals and yet she still insisted on getting more. Then I understood Reb Yonason Eibshitz’s answer. He said, “The half that he doesn’t have is more-dear than the half that he has!” The shoes in Marshals are more-dear and attractive than the shoes in the shoe bag. The quantity may be one half but qualitatively the heart is always desiring more and more.

The Mishne in Pirke Avos asks, “Who is the wealthy person? The one who is happy with his portion!” We might easily understand that this person is so busy celebrating what he has, the shoes on his feet and his feet that he has little appetite for another pair of shoes or feet. That is how we would imagine Yaakov’s mind is working and it may be true. I would like to propose another approach, as well.

Years back I would travel with an Israeli friend, Yossi, who set up speaking events and drove me there and back. He had his little idiosyncrasies. One was that he would only fill his car with Jersey gas which was cheaper. One evening we set out for Long Island with an empty tank. As much as I urged him, he refused to get gas. Somehow, miraculously, we made it all the way out to Long Island without gas.

On the way back we stopped at a gas station before taking the long ride home. We just got some Snapple and potato chips. When crossing the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey there was a gas station on the other side and a sign that read no U turn. He made the U turn and we pulled up in time. It was 1:30 AM and the outside temperature was well below zero. An African man stepped out of his warm booth. My friend cracked the window open a quarter of an inch to tell him to fill it up.

I stepped out and I told Yossi I was going to make his day. He told me emphatically not to tip him. I asked if Snapple bottles should go into the garbage or recycling. He answered, “It all goes to the same place!” This was my opening. I told him, “We all come from the same place and we all go to the same place. We come from G-d and we go back to G-d! If we understand that then we understand everything and if we understand everything else but we don’t understand that then we don’t understand anything. If we have that then even if we don’t have anything else we have everything and if we have everything else and we don’t have that we don’t have anything.” We shared a deeply human moment and he was very pleased with this valuable tip! In that way Essav really had nothing but an appetite for more while Yaakov truly had everything!