Parashat Vayishlah- Every Penny Has a Purpose
We read in Parashat Vayishlah the famous story of Yaakob’s wrestle with an angel, whom our Sages identify as “Saro Shel Esav” – Esav’s angel that was sent from the heavens to fight against Yaakob Abinu.
The Torah tells that the angel attacked Yaakob when he was alone – “Va’yivater Yaakob Le’bado” (32:24). The Gemara explains – surprisingly – that Yaakob was alone because “Shachah Pachim Ketanim” – he forgot some small utensils. As he and his family were making their way back to Eretz Yisrael, he moved everything across a stream, and then realized that there were some small, cheap items which he forgot on the other side, so he went back to get them.
This seems very difficult to understand. Yaakob by now was a very wealthy man. Did he really need to go back for these small utensils? Imagine a multimillionaire, who owns factories and apartment buildings, is traveling and realized that he forgot in his hotel room a mug he had purchased for $4.95. Would he go back to the hotel to get it? Of course not. Yet, Yaakob went back in the middle of the night to retrieve some small, inexpensive items, thus exposing himself to danger, and he was indeed attacked. Why did he do that?
As if this were not surprising enough, the Gemara continues, “We see from here that the money of the righteous is more beloved to them than their bodies.” Why would the righteous cherish their money? Doesn’t the Torah teach not to place such emphasis on money?
One answer suggests an analogy to a very poor man who could not even afford a cup with which to wash his hands for Netilat Yadayim. He tearfully begged G-d to provide him with a cup so he could at least fulfill this daily Misva, and sure enough, the next morning he found next to his bed on the floor a simple cup with a sign which read, “Here is the cup you asked for.” The man trembled with excitement and shouted for joy, knowing that his prayers were answered.
Sometime later, the man regained his financial footing and eventually became wealthy. He moved into a large house some distance from the small shack where he had lived, and after the movers finished bringing all his belongings he asked about the small cup that he kept under his bed. The movers said that they left it in his old shack.
“We figured, you’re such a wealthy man, so why would you need this cup?”
The man was in shock. Ever since the day he found that cup by his bed, it was one of his most treasured possessions. He drove all the way back to his previous home in order to retrieve it. It was very special to him, because it was given to him directly by G-d.
This is how Yaakob looked at all his possessions, and this is what the Gemara meant when it said that the righteous cherish everything they have. They look at all their worldly belongings, down to the very last simple utensil, as a gift from Hashem. If we own something – no matter how small or insignificant it might seem – it means that Hashem wanted us to have it. This is true of our homes, our cars, our businesses and our appliances, and it is true of our clothing and our silverware. And if Hashem gave us something, it is because He wants us to use it for a purpose. Our dining tables and kitchenware are to be used for honoring Shabbat and Yom Tob, and for hosting guests. The basketball hoop in our driveway is for the children to exercise and release energy so they could develop physically and emotionally and grow to be loyal students and followers of Torah.
This awareness should have a profound impact upon everything we do. Once we realize that each and every penny we have, and each and every thing we own, is given to us by G-d for a purpose, then we will be especially careful with the way we use our money and all our possessions. Nothing we have is insignificant. Everything is a precious gift, which we must ensure to use for a worthwhile purpose – the purpose for which Hashem gave it to us.