The Baal Shem Tov would often take the Chevra Kadisha, his group of holy disciples, on a mystical journey. They would board the wagon, and he would instruct the wagoneer to drop the reins and allow the horses to fly to their Divine destination. On one occasion, they landed on the doorstep of a wealthy family. The saintly crew entered the mansion and were welcomed by the baalabos, the patriarch of the business empire.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“No,” they replied.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind if I eat my supper while we talk. I’ve just come home from a long day at work,” said the man. And with that, he began his meal of black bread and radishes.
After a lively conversation, the Baal Shem Tov indicated to his disciples that it was time to depart. “I have one final request of you, my dear friend,” said the Baal Shem Tov to the wealthy man. “Tomorrow night, for dinner, I want you to eat chicken. The following day, duck. The next day, turkey. And the day after that, steak.” The students of the Baal Shem Tov were bewildered at their rebbe’s insistence that this man enjoy the gourmandizing pleasures of this mundane world. Whatever could have motivated such a strange directive?
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Concerning the corner of the field and the gleanings that fall as they are harvested, the Torah states, “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corner of your field, and the gleaning of your harvest you shall not gather it, for the pauper and for the stranger you shall leave them.” Today’s Gittin, Daf 12 discusses whether a poor farmer may collect the corner of his own field.
If a farmer gathered the corner of the field and declared, “These sheaves are hereby the property of so-and-so the pauper,” Rabbi Eliezer says that he has indeed acquired it unto him. But the Sages say that he must give them to whichever pauper he encounters first. For the Torah states, “You shall not gather it for the pauper,” implying: You shall not gather it for him, the specific pauper. And how would Rabbi Eliezer interpret the verse? The Torah is teaching that a poor man may not gather the corner of his own field and keep it for himself.
If a person is wealthy enough to own a field, why would he think that he would be able to keep the corner of the field, which is designated for poor people? Presumably, he would be excluded from the corner of any field, let alone his own!
Some people, no matter how much they have, they always think of themselves as poor. Not only are they dissatisfied with their lot – ungrateful for all the blessings that Heaven has bestowed upon them – but they’re able to justify not giving tzedakah, since they can’t really afford it! This individual owns an entire field, and he still thinks he’s too poor to give away the tithes.
Ben Zoma (in Avos 4:1) teaches, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Abarbanel explains that money is different to all other worldly desires. A person might be gluttonous, but eventually he’ll reach a point where any more food would make him feel sick. As much as the winner of the hotdog-eating competition likes hotdogs, by the time the contest is over he doesn’t want to see another hotdog for months! And likewise, there’s only so much vodka the alcoholic can imbibe before he’s ready to throw up. By contrast, there’s no limit to the amount of money one who seeks wealth will endeavor to attain. That’s what keeps billionaires still at the helm of their businesses. The desire for money has no limits.
But pay close attention to Ben Zoma’s words. He doesn’t say: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot and seeks no more.” Such a teaching would impart a lesson about the desire for future wealth. Rather, he’s instructing us “to be happy with” or “to rejoice in” our portion today. One reason why many wealthy people are constantly seeking to amass greater fortunes is that they’re insecure with what they have. That’s why the fellow in our Gemara feels poor. He may own several fields today, but who knows what tomorrow may bring? Maybe it won’t rain in time. Perhaps there’ll be an insect infestation that destroys the crops. Such attitudes make a person feel poor and motivates him to hoard as much as possible, including the corner of the field he was meant to leave for the truly poor people.
Why did the Baal Shem Tov instruct the rich man to eat steak? “If he eats meat,” the Rebbe explained to his disciples, “when a poor man appears on his doorstep, he’ll give him a piece of herring. But if he’s eating black bread and radishes, what do you think he’s going to serve the poor man?” That’s the meaning of rejoicing in your lot. Not just being content with what you have, but enjoying the bounty Hashem has bestowed upon you and acknowledging that you have been blessed by Heaven. If you are a faithful individual, the acknowledgement of Heaven’s bounty and the enjoyment of your wealth will motivate you to share that bounty with others.
You are not poor. You are richer than most people on the planet. May you forever recognize Hashem’s blessings, share them with others, and know that just like He has blessed you today, He will bless you tomorrow!