Today I was reading a commentary written by Rabbi Label Lam on this weeks parsha, the weekly torah portion. It happens to be about the reunion of Jacob and Esau, but it pertains to the giving and receiving, an important Kabbalistic concept that typically comes to the forefront of our minds during the holiday season.
Just when so many people are caught up in the “getting” of gifts–in what they desire to receive–I found it interesting to read about the different perspectives these two biblical characters had on their so-called “possessions. In Genesis 33:9, 11, Esau proclaims, “I have plenty.” Jacob says, “I have all.” According to Rashi, one of the most famous commentators on the Torah, “Esau spoke boastfully, proclaiming :’I have plenty more than I could ever want.’ (Jacob said, ‘I have) everything that I require.’” Rabbi Lam points out that Easau “evaluates his personal wealth in terms of quantity (“plenty”), as opposed to Jacob, who does so in terms of quality (“all”). While the former is still hopelessly addicted to temporary material existence, the latter is living life on a higher frequency.”
I see this as the difference between someone who wants material “things” and often feels lack when those things are absent and a person who looks around at the world and sees the abundance of the universe and feels rich in every way. One person will always see something missing in his or her life, while the other person can always find something in his or her life about which to feel grateful and prosperous and abundant. It’s a different perspective, a different point of view, a different way of seeing the world. In fact, it’s a different consciousness.
During Christmas and Chanukah, a lot of stress is placed on presents. Most people enjoy giving presents as well as receiving them. The Kabbalists teach that we should really want is a new consciousness–a consciousness that desires to receive in order to give, or to share, with others unconditionally. The holiday season offers us a chance to practice this more so than at any other time of the year. We can ask ourselves as we make up our gift list, how can we share what we receive? How can we do so when we feel as if we don’t have enough ourselves? And how can we get out of feeling that sense of lack so we can give more freely and easily and unconditionally?
Additionally, how does what we have to give play into our concept of ourselves and what we feel we are worth? Many people’s self image is tied totally into their home, car, clothes, savings, and other material things. Do these things really say anything about who we are and what we are worth?
Read this story that Rabbi Lam told in his commentary on this week’s parsha, and you’ll realize that a person’s worth and value actually is tied to their unconditional giving.
A powerful king once approached the famous Baron Rothschild and candidly asked him what he was worth. The Baron is reputed to have answered that he was worth some 50 million francs. The king felt that the answer somehow understated his true holdings and did some investigation. When he discovered that Baron Rothschild really was worth 500 million francs, he felt betrayed, and confronted the Baron again. “Why have you misled me and violated our trusting relationship? I am aware that your assets exceed 500 million francs!”
The Baron humbly replied that true, his holdings were some 500 million francs – but the king had asked, “How much are you worth?” To that the Baron was compelled to tell the truth. “What I gave to charity approaches 50 million francs. What I have managed to give away is actually accounted to my “worth.” That is what I carry with me. It is locked in a vault of good deeds forever. As to what will happen to the remainder of my wealth, I am uncertain. I do not count it as my personal worth.’”
Rabbi Lam explains the moral of this story in this way: “The spiritually-oriented person is not compelled to impress or be impressed by that which lies outside of himself. His true ambition is aimed at goals that are within his reachable realm, and his physical possessions are merely a means to achieve those ends and not the ends themselves.”
I’d add this: We all have desires. We all want to learn how to manifest those desires. The key is to find desires that involve giving to others…helping others…becoming change agents… Try to manifest “things” that help you do this, and use them in that manner. Then ask yourself what you have and what you are worth. You’ll probably discover that you have all, your worth has grown considerably and you are quite worthy of receiving more.