There is one who considers himself rich and has nothing; there is one who thinks himself poor and has great wealth. The ransom of a man's soul are his riches, and poor is he who has listened to no warning.
To better understand the difference between the ideologies of Ya'akov and Eisav, one must trace Ya'akov's ideology back to the purpose of creation.
Man was created purely for his own benefit: to experience pleasure, [This is defined as God's "good" in the book, "The Way of God' by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. See the chapter titled 'The Purpose of Creation.'] to be happy. This is also what man desires both physically and spiritually.
Where this singular purpose of life splinters into countless diverse opinions, is over the definition of true and meaningful pleasure. From Western Society's point of view, pleasure is most often associated with physical gratification or, at the very least, the absence of pain.
In order to understand the purpose of creation and the Torah's definition of pleasure, it is helpful to examine the verses pertaining to the creation of man:
God [Elokim] said, "Let us make man in our image and our likeness." (Braishis 1:26)This verse raises important questions. Firstly, does the Torah imply that God entered into consultation in order to create man? (To whom does the word 'us' refer?) Secondly, what does it mean that we bear resemblance to God? Finally, why mention both 'image' and 'likeness' when the two are generally considered to be synonymous?
The Torah here is revealing man's intrinsic nature; namely, that he is a composite of two distinct elements: the 'forces of creation' (image) and a Godly component (likeness). Thus man is, in essence, both natural and supernatural, a combination of the physical and the divine.
[The name Adam indicates this: the word adam is made up of the letter 'Alef' and the word ‘dam’ The former means ‘chieftain', which traditionally has always alluded to God ('Alef' is also representative of the number 1, which alludes to God Who is One), and the latter means 'blood,' the essential physical component of man.]
Rashi further defines the divine component as the ability to understand and to discern, the component which permits man to aspire to the heavens while his feet walk the earth. But to what end?
The following commentary provides perspective:
The term Elokim can be used to describe every intelligent force that is separated from matter, and which is perfect and can function in actuality. As such, it is therefore eternal, and thus this term is used regarding God, the Blessed One, and His angels; it is also applied to judges because of their ability of reason... Nevertheless, before man contemplates and thinks deeply, lacking the perfection and completeness prepared for him, he cannot be called Elokim, but can only be called the image of Elokim - until he attains perfection."A fundamental point that emerges is that the 'likeness' of God that we bear upon birth is not a completed state but a potential one. However, the reference to being only a 'likeness' of Elokim is not a limitation; just the opposite. It is a directive to go beyond our incomplete state, to become an actual Elokim, to think deeply and behave in a profound and spiritually sensitive manner, like the true and ultimate Elokim.
(Sforno, Braishis 1:26)
Still, it is an objective that seems barely accessible through everyday life. However, as the intended objective of all of mankind, it must somehow be attainable even while man seems immersed in the mundane.
If you gaze into a mirror, what do you see? Do you see your self? Where? In your eyes? No, because your eyes are merely 'windows' through which you look out. But who is the 'you' looking out?
You might imagine a little cartoon-like character inside running an intricate control center, the 'brains' of the operation, looking out from the other side of the eyes. But of course you won't find anything of the sort: merely a mass of tissue fibre, blood vessels, and nerves intricately connected. Is that the you that people refer to? (Hard to believe.)
As you probe deeper into your mind it becomes apparent that you are not only physical. One who loses a part of his/her body, be it a limb or organ, is not introduced as two-thirds of Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so. From a Torah perspective, it is equally apparent that one is not only a soul, because a soul would never behave immorally. [See "The Way of God", Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in the chapter entitled "The Creation of Man" for a more extensive discussion of this idea.] Consonant with the Torah's perspective, it seems that an individual's identity is the net result of combining both body and soul, (See Talmud, Sanhedrin 91b and the analogy of the blind man and the lame man) or more precisely, the awareness that results from this combination. This is what the Torah implies when it states:
And God breathed into his [man's] nostrils a living spirit, and man became a living creature. (Braishis 1:7;)[Targum Onkeles interprets 'living spirit' as ,speaking spirit.' Speech is considered to be possible because of the introduction of the soul into the body, or, in other words, because of a heightened awareness which makes speech possible.]
z There is life in the physical component of man, but there is no awareness, or consciousness, no self - until that physical component is imbued with an aspect of the divine, something invisible in a mirror.
If we consider what causes us to act in any given circumstance, we will see that it is always a function of what we know and our relationship to that knowledge. (As discussed in Part Two: Awareness, in Judaism, there is the idea of three levels of knowing: dayah, binah, v'haskel - awareness of an idea, understanding of that idea, and integration of the idea. See that chapter for a clearer understanding of this idea.) In other words, what we are aware of and what we relate to governs how we interpret the reality confronting us. If our awareness is limited, our interpretation will be similarly limited, thus affecting our reaction - our self- expression.
A simple example illustrates the above point. An unknowing child may place his finger on the burner while it is hot. An adult, who knows and understands that heat burns, that skin is too valuable to lose, and that pain is an uncomfortable consequence of burning will not touch the burner while it is hot. Adult and child confront the same circumstance, but with a different level of awareness and relationship to the information, and thus with a different interpretation of the reality and response to it.
The purpose of existence, which the Torah has defined as 'becoming a deeply thinking, intellectually sensitive individual', is really the process of self-development. Indeed, the 'us' of "Let us make man..." perhaps addresses the incomplete man, with God saying "I'll provide the form and the opportunity; you, the individual, must develop the self". The person who fulfills this challenging imperative is an Elokim; the closest likeness of God ever to be found in the physical world.
Consequently, everything that exists, including money, was intended to provide an opportunity for the development of self. Any other approach to the physical world could at best provide only temporary stimulation, and endlessly drive a person to seek more such ephemeral pleasure, thereby inhibiting self-developrnent.
Ya'akov understood the true potential of the physical world. The Torah describes the young Ya'akov as an ish yoshev Ohalim, (Braishis 25:27) a man 'sitting in the tents', studying Torah, diligently probing its depths for instruction regarding the development and maintenance of self.
Ya'akov's learning and introspection ultimately allowed him to accurately see that the true potential of the physical world is as a vehicle for self-fulfillment. This understanding and perception of the physical world is, indeed, the very essence of what truly made Ya'akov 'wealthy'.