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Chapter Four

Knowledge, Potential, and Fulfillment

Ya'akov remained alone..
Braishis 32:25
He stayed over for some small containers [of little worth]. From here we learn that the property of the Righteous is more dear to them than their own well-being.
Talmud Chullin 91a

Imagine the following scenario. Somewhere in downtown Manhattan, a man is busy working when he receives a phone call. Answering the telephone, the man eases back in his chair and mechanically reaches for a stray elastic band on his desk.

Minutes pass before the man becomes aware of the elastic band, now wound around his finger. Upon noticing it, he desires to throw it away, thinking to himself: "Just another thing cluttering up my desk."

But as he reaches to throw it out, half-listening to the person on the other end of the line, a voice inside him says, "Watch, as soon as I throw it out I'll need it." So, instead, as he eases back into his chair to resume his concentration, he tosses the elastic band back onto his desk, and smiles to himself thinking, "Now for sure I won't need it. That's the way it always works."

About an hour later, a friend enters his office. After a brief exchange of greetings, the friend reaches into his billfold and pulls out one hundred loose fifty dollar bills. The money is intended for an organization that assists poor families who can't afford to pay for life-saving operations.

After his friend leaves, the man wraps the elastic band around the money, and then places the bundle into his briefcase, unaware of its ultimate purpose: to save the life a boy lying in a hospital bed in another part of town.

The man leaves his office, takes the elevator to the first floor and heads for the parking lot. The weather has changed since the morning, and stepping outside, the man clutches his collar in one hand while holding his briefcase in the other. Upon reaching his car, he stands his briefcase on top of the roof and searches for his keys. No sooner does he place his briefcase down when a gust of wind blows it off the car.

Upon impacting the ground, the briefcase opens and papers are scattered in all directions; but they are the least of the man's concerns. "The money! Where's the five thousand dollars!" Frantically searching through the mess of papers, the man suddenly finds the bundle of money, held together by the elastic band, and heaves a sigh of relief. Gratefully, he deposits the cash back into his briefcase with as many papers as he can collect.

In the end, the money makes it to its destination: The Fund for Sick Children. Within days, the papers are processed, and the money is issued to the family of the boy awaiting a critical operation. It turns out that operation saves the boy's life.

The following year, after fully recuperating from his operation, the boy is able, once again, to attend high school once again. With a new lease on life, he puts everything he has into all that he does. Steadily, his grades improve, and two years later he graduates.

After graduating, the boy, now a young man, enters the military academy, and does equally well there, earning promotion after promotion. By the time he is twenty-eight, he has proven himself in the eyes of his superiors, and is transferred to a whole different section: the Secret Service.

It's not too long before the young man gets his most prestigious assignment: to guard the president of the United States. In the past, his job demanded that he constantly be on the alert, but now he has to watch for possible assassins.

And then it happens one day. At a public gathering being addressed by the president, the young man notices someone hurriedly making his way to the front of the crowd. Automatically, the young man follows the stranger. Suddenly the stranger makes a motion to draw a gun from within his coat, and at that point, without delay, the young agent pounces on the would-be assassin, thereby aborting the attempted assassination.

Police and Secret Service men rush the president off to his waiting car as other agents subdue the would-be assassin. News of the attempted assassination sends shock waves around the world, but not like the kind that would have reverberated had the assassin been successful.

Who would have thought that an elastic band could play such a major international role?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The above story appears incredible but it is not unlikely. Such stories might be commonplace if the chain of events leading to important historical incidents were known in detail. Furthermore, it is often small and seemingly insignificant events that act as catalysts for events of crucial importance. Similarly, seemingly insignificant objects often play important roles in critical events.

Ya'akov, on his way back to Canaan to confront Eisav, sent his family and belongings, across the Yavok river. (An eastern tributary of the Jordan. Ya'akov crossed here on his way back from Mesopotamia into Canaan.) According to tradition, instead of crossing the river with his belongings he remained behind to retrieve some small containers, even though it meant spending the night alone out in the open. For retrieving these small, seemingly unimportant containers, Ya'akov was greatly rewarded:

God said to Ya'akov, "For endangering yourself for a small container, I Myself will repay your children with a small container to the Chashmonaim. (Midrash Tzeida Laderech.)
The 'small container' repaid to the Chashmonaim referred to in the above midrash is the famous small jar of oil that remained spiritually pure after the Temple's desecration at the time of Chanukah. (Finding even just one jar of oil whose priestly seal had not been broken, indicating that the oil was still fitting for use in the menorah, was the initial miracle. The Greeks had maliciously sought to defile all the oil, and miraculously overlooked this one jar that was hidden away - the reward for Ya'akov's act. Thus two miracles actually occurred: the first one was finding the undefiled oil, and the second was the fact that the oil burned for seven extra days, which is why we celebrate all eight days as opposed to only the last seven days during which the second miracle originally occurred.) But what possible relationship could there be between Ya'akov's bravery to retrieve the containers and a miracle that wouldn't occur for another 1,300 years? According to this midrash, the ‘small container' provides the clue to the answer.

After all, why did Ya'akov go back for the containers? After a whole day spent transporting one's family and belongings across the Yavok river, does one stay behind for a couple of stray jars? (How many items do families leave behind just to avoid packing them away when moving?)

If you are Ya'akov, then the answer is yes. After all, who knows what unused potential those jars might have? Right now they may seem insignificant, but at another moment, they could be invaluable. In a pinch, one could put oil in them and light Shabbos candles-which would be a profound form of self-expression.

(Shabbos is the time of week when one ceases from ‘creative activity' for the purpose of enhancing one's relationship to God. Shabbos candles serve a few purposes, one of which is to create the proper Shabbos atmosphere. For this reason, lighting Shabbos candles is a significant way to express one's love of Shabbos and God.

Ya'akov was a man whose entire life was devoted to the service of God. Self-fulfillment was achieving a level of intellectual clarity that would cause every thought, word, and deed to be an expression of desire for that relationship. This is what Ya'akov used as a criterion to define the worthiness of an object or an event: does it have potential to allow me to further my relationship with God?)

Ya'akov's concern for those small containers was an expression of his awareness and deep understanding of the potential within creation. As Ya'akov saw it, even what seemed to be the most inconsequential article could facilitate the heightening of one's personal awareness and thereby develop self. This in turn sensitized Ya'akov to the importance of living with an appreciation for all things, and further revealed to him the hidden potential of the world around him. The result was a deeply aware self-fulfilled individual. (This will be dealt with in more detail in the essay, 'Awareness', found in Part Two.)

This is the connection between the small containers of Ya'akov's time and the small jar of oil in the story of Chanukah: Ya'akov made spiritual development and self-expression such a priority that it even overrode his concern for physical safety. Chanukah also symbolizes the triumph of spiritual freedom over the concern for physical safety. (The oil of the menorah serves as an eloquent reminder of this link, as it was recovered by the descendants of Ya'akov, who placed spiritual freedom above their concerns for physical survival.)

Thus, an underlying message of the above midrash is that one should never underestimate the potential of that which one possesses, no matter how small. A simple elastic band could one day save the world from anarchy and chaos. A small jar could be the catalyst for untold miracles. If this is so for seemingly insignificant articles, how much more so is this true for items of importance, especially 'money'.

Indeed, for Ya'akov, money is not something you merely put into the bank and accumulate, or spend wantonly; rather, it is an exciting vehicle for self-expression. And, inasmuch as one's use of it is a form of positive self-expression, it can be regarded as an extension of one's being, an expansion of self. In this sense money makes a person feel wealthy.

Eisav, on the other hand, hopes that the next million will finally give him a sense of self-satisfaction. But it never does, and deep down it frustrates him that he can have so much and yet feel so insecure; so insatiable. It aggravates him that he never seems to have a portion with which he can be entirely happy. Both Ya'akov and Eisav may want more than they have, but it is only Eisav who suffers because of what he thinks he lacks.

© by Mercava Productions

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