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Chapter Five

The Wealthy One

Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.
Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:1

Who is a wealthy person? asks Ethics of our Fathers, and answers: "One who is happy with his portion." This mishnah teaches that wealth derives from happiness and not the other way around. Further, the mishnah leads to the inference that if one cannot be happy with what one presently has, then further material possessions will also not increase one's level of happiness.

As well-known and widespread as these ideas may be, deep down many people believe that the portion they presently have is not necessarily their portion, that is, the portion meant for them. As a result, they feel a sense of want that detracts from their happiness and they tend to unduly focus on having 'more'.

The mishnah, however, by stating 'his, portion instead of 'the portion he presently has', indicates that one's present portion is indeed his intended portion. Does this apply to poor and rich alike?

The following Talmudic passage sheds light on God's role in providing man's 'lot in life':

The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him: Why did the manna (The special food that fell from Heaven while the Jews travelled in the desert after leaving Egypt (Shemos 16:13)) not fall once a year [as opposed to once a day]? He replied, I shall give you a parable: It can be compared to a mortal king who had a son for whom he provided food once a year; [as a result] he saw his son once a year. Thereupon he provided for his maintenance daily, so that he called on him every day. The same [is the case] with Israel. One who had four or five children would worry and say, "Perhaps no manna will come down tomorrow, and all will die of hunger." Thus they turned their faces to heaven [in prayer]. (Yoma 76a.)
The manna that fell for the Jews throughout their forty years in the desert had interesting properties. For instance, the manna did not fall the same way for everyone. For the righteous, it fell by their door, already prepared, and tasting like the food of their desire. For those less worthy, it fell out in the field, and required collection and preparation. (Yoma 76a.)

Another property of the manna, perhaps even more out-of-the ordinary, was that no matter how much manna was collected, each person always ended up with precisely one measure called an omer. (A measure equal to about 2 quarts.) Regardless of how much food one normally consumed, if an individual gathered less than this amount, he would discover upon his arrival home that the manna somehow measured one full omer. By the same token, those who collected more would find that the surfeit amount had rotted." (Only on Friday could one collect a double portion, since the manna did not fall on Shabbos.)

The fact that the manna fell equally for everyone is very significant, (especially since life in the desert was meant to spiritually prime the Jewish nation for life in the Land of Israel.) and indicates that though physically, the manna acted as food, spiritually, it served to convey a crucial message from God:

'How much you think you need does not necessarily determine what you should have or should strive for. What you have is what I planned for you, and is precisely what you need at any given moment in your life. You may appear to be lacking, but you will be able to fulfill yourself with that which you already have.
(Though there seem to be more direct causes for the levels of deprivation that exist in the world today (e.g. war, drought etc.) these causes ultimately trace back to ‘not being happy with one's portion' which manifests itself in greed, war, etc., and less obviously in 'natural causes'. Indeed it has been proven that there is enough food to feed every individual on the face of the earth; technology promises to improve upon this. However, national selfishness, politics, etc., play a primary role in averting the success of this international dream. This issue warrants a much deeper discussion of themes central to Jewish philosophy.)
Alternatively, you might acquire more than you need, but ultimately the surplus will serve no purpose in terms of personal self-fulfillment.’ (Except, perhaps, to prove the point that it is superfluous for self-development. For the sake of free-will, God makes it possible to collect more money than one needs, with the hope that by having the extra riches the person will realize on their own that it has no meaning if they don't need it for spiritual progress.)
The rabbis, in Ethics of Our Fathers, confirm this message by teaching that what one actually possesses is what they are meant to possess at that point-in-time. It is what they now require to grow beyond their present spiritual level. If one grows, the tools they require for growth will also increase. Likewise, if one spiritually regresses, they might require a reduction of physical assets to stimulate spiritual growth.
(This barely touches on the issue that addresses why people we see as righteous suffer, and why people we see as evil seem to prosper. Obviously a discussion as fundamental as this one deserves a book of its own.)

In the desert, the depth to which one integrated this message of the manna, directly affected the way in which the manna fell. If a person truly identified with this message of being fully satisfied with that which one has, then they wouldn't expend 'extra' effort looking for more manna than that which God had allotted to them. To indicate to such an individual that they were on the right track, and in a sense, as a reward for their spiritual success, the manna would arrive in a completed state.

If, on the other hand, someone didn't have enough trust God and unnecessarily expended effort to acquire more manna, then the manna would indicate this by arriving in an incomplete state and forcing the individual to work harder for their meal.

Based upon what has just been stated, perhaps the following Talmudic passage becomes less obscure, and indicates the significance of the measure of an omer to quantify the amount of manna that fell:

In the future, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will give to each righteous individual 310 worlds, as it says, "...That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance (yaish)..." (Proverbs 8:21) ("Yaish" is numerically equal to 310; Yud=10; Shin=300) (Sanhedrin 100a)
The Hebrew word for 'substance' as stated above is the word yaish, which also means to 'have'. 'Substance' and 'having' may be equated because 'have' implies 'within one's possession', and until such time as an individual acquires possession of a physical object, that object is for all intents and purposes insubstantial in terms of its potential for that individual. In other words, what an individual possesses at any given moment, is the true and precise measure of what that individual needs at that time to move closer to fulfilling their true purpose in creation-to become an Elokim.

Ultimately, worldly possessions are truly possessed ('had') and capable of being fully translated into the true and eternal substance when in the hands of an individual, like Ya'akov, who understands and uses them for their true purpose. And the righteous are those same individuals, who recognized that God had given them "all they need", and in the fullness of their time came to perceive and extract the true potential of that which they purposefully possessed while it was allotted to them. In so doing, such individuals fulfill man's most noble purpose and earn the true, eternal substance, alluded to in the above Talmudic statement. - God's ultimate purpose for man.

The message of the manna expressed in Ya'akov's words, God in His kindness has given me all that I need, unlocks the potential of man and the physical world. It is fitting then, that the manna had a precise measure, an omer, one that numerically equalled the word that stands for the reward for meaningful living - yaish (310) (Reish = 200; Mem = 40; Ayin = 70; 200 + 40 + 70 = 310) - the yaish to which the message of the manna, ultimately leads!

To be fully aware of the message of the manna is also to appreciate the futility of worrying about tomorrow’s manna for no one knows or controls what possessions are truly theirs, truly good for their spiritual growth, other than God Himself.

Ya'akov understood all of this. He never concerned himself with how much he had, only with the potential that he possessed to develop and give expression to his inner self, through that which he already had. (Ya'akov not only understood all of this, he lived it. He was the kind of person who would give the last ten dollars in his pocket to someone else who needed it more than he did. What other option was there? To save the money instead? What self-expression is there in merely accumulating money? God made creation as an act of kindness, shouldn't we act likewise? His nature is to care and to be concerned for the welfare of others... shouldn't we behave similarly?) For this reason, he was, and will remain the ideal role model of the 'wealthy' man - the true hero -intellectually creative, profoundly aware, and above all, truly sensitive to the purpose of creation. (Money, eating, drinking, sleeping-the whole physical world is here just to facilitate progress towards this goal, to promote deep thinking and heightened spiritual awareness. And Life is the opportunity for creating that awareness and the stage upon which we give physical expression to all we come to accept to be true and meaningful.)

In practical terms, Ya'akov understood that if you don't spend money to create self, you end up spending self to create money. It is only the former that allows money and the righteous to become one and the same expressions of fulfilled potential, as the following verse and the ensuing Talmudic commentary now make clear:

A bag of money (kesef) he took in his hand...
Proverbs 7:4
There is no kesef [money] except for the Righteous, as it says "A bag of money he took in his hand..." (This, the Talmud is indicating, is the deeper meaning of the reference to money in the previously quoted verse.)
Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b
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