A colleague of mine was trying to persuade a congregant to buy mezuzahs for his new home. According to my friend, the house was a veritable palace, luxuriously decorated, with no expense spared on the artworks, furnishings and fittings. The man had called his rabbi in to affix just the token mezuzah by the front door, but my mate attempted to convince him to do it properly.

“But rabbi,” the man objected, “I have over 60 doors in my new house. Do you realize how much it would cost me to put mezuzahs on every door?”

I don’t begrudge the guy his beautiful new home; I’m sure he had worked hard for it, and deserved to enjoy his good fortune. But I do wonder why he had classified every other opulence as a necessity, and his Jewish obligations as redundant luxuries.

It’s ironic that this was his attitude, because Judaism takes an inverse attitude to conspicuous consumption. Overspending on one’s own home or possessions is discouraged, while it is a mitzvah to build opulent houses of worship. The Temple in Jerusalem and, earlier, the traveling Tabernacle of the desert were designed to the highest standard. The most expensive materials were used, and only the most skilful craftspeople were employed in its manufacture.

Even after the buildings were completed and dedicated to G‑d’s worship, our ancestors embarked on a continuous process of renovating and redecorating. As the community became more affluent, they would spend more, replacing silver with gold, and continuously investing in their relationship with G‑d.

A cynic might ask: Why spend so much? Why not be satisfied with the current setup and relax? If good is good, do we really have to agonize, constantly trying to make it better?

The lesson is that we must continuously strive to improve, to reach our fullest potential and not to remain satisfied with the pedestrian efforts of our past. Some people are born with superior abilities, with greater opportunity to shine and grow. It may be easier to avoid stress and satisfy oneself with a more humdrum occupation, but to do so would be to shirk one’s responsibilities to G‑d and society.

If you could gild yourself in metaphorical gold, and are satisfied instead to remain in silver, you are failing as a person and as a Jew. If you can influence a nation, and restrict your efforts to a village, all of society loses from your reticence. Don’t hide your gifts when the public is clamoring for whatever you uniquely have to share. Modesty is all very well in its place, but not at the cost of the greater good. When it comes to our efforts for religion and our dedication to G‑d and His Torah, nothing is too lavish or too much effort.

By spending big on the truly important things in life and relegating the inessentials to the peripheries of our attention, we justify ourselves in the eyes of G‑d, and transform our life and home into a sanctuary for G‑d.