Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

In the Torah portion of Ki Tavo (Devarim 28:47), Hashem explains why we (chas v’shalom) incur the curses: “Because you didn’t serve the L-rd your G-d in happiness and with a good heart …” and the verse ends with the two words “m’rov kol,” which loosely translated means “from a lot, everything.”

As you may have gathered from my shiurim, my life’s work is researching the Lechem Hapanim. Undoubtedly, the most monumental turning point in the research was when I first encountered a numismatic article about an ancient, bronze “pruta” coin from the period of the Second Temple, minted by Matityah Antigonus II, the last of the Chashmonaim kings. Engraved on either side are images of the Menorah and the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim.

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What makes this so groundbreaking is that the shape of the Lechem Hapanim on the coin matches the Hebrew letter kaf, which resembles a smiling mouth. This archeological evidence corroborated a theory, from additional research of ancient handwritten manuscripts of Rashi on Gemara Menachot, that the shape of the Lechem Hapanim is not what we commonly believe it to be. This discovery set me on an unexpected path of investigation into the connection between happiness and wealth. As you know, the Lechem Hapanim is a blessing for material wealth.

The reason I am telling you all this is because the crux of the matter appears in this week’s parsha, the epic reunion between Yaakov and Eisav after 34 years of estrangement. The entire episode revolves around material possessions.

It begins by telling us that when Yaakov hears that Eisav is heading toward him with a force of 400 men, he is fearful (Bereishit 32:8). Why should Yaakov be afraid? Hashem promised him that he would return safely to the land of his birth (Bereishit 28:15). Yaakov now has the “antidote” to Eisav, his son Yosef (he delayed his return until Yosef was born), because, as the prophet Ovadiah (1:18) says, Yosef is Eisav’s nemesis. Yitzchak is still alive and Eisav’s vow to kill Yaakov for stealing the blessing was only after Yitzchak’s death (not for another 23 years). Despite all that, Yaakov is afraid, and the question is why?

Yaakov prepares for the reunion by readying himself for war, by praying, and by sending Eisav lavish gifts. The text intricately details the material possessions Yaakov sent to appease Eisav. The epic meeting then takes place. Eisav hugs Yaakov, kisses him, and cries on his shoulder (some commentaries say it was a genuine reconciliation, others say Eisav was trying to harm Yaakov and his descendants). Yaakov then presents the members of his family and finally . . . and we get to the nitty gritty.

Our Sages say that if you want to understand the heart of a matter, you read the bottom line. For example (in last week’s parsha), Lavan pursued Yaakov and began by accusing him of running away and not allowing him to kiss his daughters and grandchildren goodbye. Then Lavan gets to the true reason for chasing after Yaakov: “Why did you steal my idols?”

Similarly here, the heart of the matter for Eisav is when he asks Yaakov (Bereishit 33:8), “What’s with all the gifts?”

The heart of the dispute between Eisav and Yaakov is over material possessions. The Yalkut Shimoni says that while in the womb Eisav and Yaakov divided up their inheritance – Eisav would get the material world (Olam Hazeh) while Yaakov would get the spiritual world (Olam Habah). Everything was “peachy” until Yaakov “stole” Eisav’s blessing. Eisav was involved with materialism (he was a hunter), while Yaakov was involved with spirituality (he studied in yeshiva). By “stealing” Yitzchak’s blessing of material wealth (at Rivka’s behest), Yaakov was “encroaching” on Eisav’s territory. This was the game changer for Eisav.

Yaakov was never interested in material wealth; he was happy with what he had (same’ach bechelko). He was an unwilling participant in Rivka’s scheme to “steal” the material blessing. When Yaakov left Canaan to go stay with Lavan, Eliphaz stole all his possessions. All Yaakov then asked Hashem for were clothes to wear and bread to eat (Bereishit 28:20). The Yalkut Shimoni says that even this was a (future) spiritual request that his descendants should merit priestly garments and Lechem Hapanim. Yaakov was doing his parents’ bidding by marrying Lavan’s daughters and working for 14 years for the privilege. As long as Yaakov was same’ach bechelko, he had nothing to fear.

The potential problem was his remaining an additional six years with Lavan to accumulate material wealth (sheep).

In Meir Panim, I note the principle that Yaakov feared that his remaining those extra six years with Lavan, while during that time his brother Eisav was observing the mitzvah of honoring their parents, may have aroused the prosecuting angel against him – which it did. Before their meeting, Yaakov battled Eisav’s guardian angel.

What was the essence of this battle? Eisav’s angel inflicted an injury “bekaf yerech Yaakov,” translated as his “thigh.” However, there is a much deeper symbolism to this. The injury was to the kaf of Yaakov’s leg (regel). The leg symbolizes material wealth. In Hebrew, someone who goes bankrupt is “poshet regel.” The test in this battle was to see to what degree Yaakov’s kaf was invoked regarding his material possessions. As we said above, the letter kaf, shaped like the Lechem Hapanim, resembles a smile, symbolizing the principle of “same’ach bechelko.”

There could be a suspicion that, since Yaakov decided to remain an extra six years with Lavan to accumulate wealth, he was no longer same’ach bechelko. Yaakov emerged from this conflict limping. It was only after he rectified this by sending Eisav lavish gifts, indicating that he was indeed same’ach bechelko and not interested in material wealth and that Eisav could have it all, did his limp disappear.

Eisav then reveals his life philosophy on wealth (Bereishit 33:9): “Yesh li rav – I have a lot.” Having “a lot” indicates dissatisfaction – I still want more!

Yaakov entreats his brother to accept the gifts (ibid, 11) and reveals his own philosophy of materialism: “Vechi yesh li kol – I have everything.” I am same’ach bechelki, I am happy with what I have. I am as I have always been, focused on the spiritual and not the material. It is then that Eisav is appeased.

This is how Hashem requires us to serve him, with a kol philosophy regarding materialism (that we are same’ach bechelkeinu), and a rav philosophy regarding spirituality, that we have a lot, but we crave more. That way we merit the blessings and not the curses.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Yaakov builds temporary, roofed enclosures for his sheep in Sukkot, the first person in history to do so. Why?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: When Yaakov meets Rachel for the first time, he kisses her and then bursts out crying. Is this the way to behave on a “first date?” One commentary says that Yaakov was embarrassed that, unlike Eliezer who went in search of a wife for Yitzchak, Yaakov had arrived at Lavan penniless. Another commentary says that he envisioned the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and Rachel welcoming Am Yisrael back in the time of Mashiach.

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Eliezer Meir Saidel is Managing Director of Machon Lechem Hapanim www.machonlechemhapanim.org dedicated to researching the Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center www.jewishbakingcenter.com which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread.