Dividing the Wealth

When Rebecca was pregnant with Jacob and Esau, she went to ask a prophet why she was feeling so much turmoil and pain. The prophet told her that she was carrying two nations, and that, from the womb, they would go their separate ways.

Our sages recount a conversation between JacobShe was carrying two nations that would go their separate ways and Esau that took place while they were still in the womb. Esau’s soul said to Jacob’s soul, “We are two brothers to one father, and there are two worlds before us: this world and the world to come. This world has food, drink, business, marriage, children—all things that hold little interest for you. Why don’t we split the worlds? You take this world and I will take the next?”

Jacob agreed and activated the deal 15 years later: Esau’s birthright for Jacob’s soup. If Esau wanted the earthly soup, he would need to keep his word and surrender the heavenly birthright.

Seventy-five years later, Jacob returned from Charan a wealthy man. Esau saw Jacob’s wealth and immediately objected: “Did we not agree that I would receive earthly goods while you receive heavenly goods? How do you come by all this wealth?” To which Jacob replied, “This wealth is just what G‑d gave me to live on.” Jacob replied that he did not seek to grow rich, just to have enough to devote himself to G‑dly living.1

Grabbing the Heel

We now come to a better understanding of a curious episode in the Torah. Esau was born first, and Jacob came along moments later, his little hand grasped tightly around Esau’s heel.2

There are many explanations for why he did this, and I want to share one based on the above agreement between Jacob and Esau.

When Jacob agreed to allow Esau earthly possessions in exchange for heavenly blessing, he assumed that the brothers would operate under the same rules that his own sons, Issachar and Zebulun, would operate under only one generation later. Zebulun was a wealthy merchant and Issachar was an esteemed scholar. The wealthy Zebulun supported his scholarly brother and shared in the merit of his Torah study.

Jacob assumed that his agreement with Esau would work along similar lines. Esau would travel, invest, grow wealthy, enjoyHe assumed Esau would use his wealth to support Torah students a big beautiful home with exotic art and fancy furnishings. Jacob would live in a tent, where he would fulfill his heart’s only desire—to study Torah. He was content to let Esau travel the world and enjoy its gifts because he assumed Esau would use his wealth to support Torah students.

Jacob was not mistaken in this assessment because, while in the womb, Esau was still righteous. If you recall, the prophet informed Rebecca that the two fetuses would separate from the womb, but in the womb, they were on the same page. Esau wanted the earthly benefits, but he wasn’t opposed to heavenly blessings. His attitude was like that of Zebulun. He would use he wealth to support Torah scholars.

Jacob didn’t object to Esau’s emerging from the womb ahead of him. Esau’s emerging first would symbolically represent the time he would need to prepare so that he could support Jacob’s Torah studies. This is, after all, the way of the world. This world comes before the world to come as evening comes before morning and earthly wealth comes before heavenly blessing.

This works so long as evening is seen as a prelude to morning, this world serves as a corridor to the next world, and the wealthy realize that their purpose is to support holy causes. But when the priorities are reversed, and evening takes on more importance than morning because it comes first, when earth becomes more important than the heaven, and when the philanthropist believes that he is more important because he has the money, the entire system collapses.

So long as Esau was in the womb, he recognized that he went first so that he could support the Torah. However, the moment Esau emerged from the womb, his entire attitude shifted. He became anti-Jacob, anti-Torah and anti-G‑d. He was now interested in wealth for its own sake, and would use it to establish his own power, fame and reputation.

Jacob’s soul sensed this immediately, and his little hand reached out to clutch at Esau’s heel. Alas, it was too late. The partnership as envisioned by Jacob and Esau in the womb was not meant to be. That would have been too easy, and G‑d’s script for life is never easy. G‑d places challenges before us so that we will struggle and grow, and rarely allows us the easy path.3

Why You Need Wealth

Our sages taught that G‑d created gold so that it could be used in the Temple for His glory. But once created, He allowed us to enjoy some of it too. This teaching is important because it reminds us that the true purpose of wealth and power is the glorification of G‑d. If we find ourselves in possession of either, we must remember that its ultimate purpose is not for us, but for G‑d.

Wealthy people are often solicited forThe purpose of gold is to glorify G‑d donations. The solicitors use all forms of flattery to open the donors’ hearts and wallets. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain humility and perspective under such circumstances. Donors begin to believe that if so many leaders and activists visit their office and beg for their attention, they must be exceedingly important.

But the truth is that they are not important. The support that they offer to Torah is important. Issachar respected Zebulun, not because Zebulun was wealthy, but because Zebulun respected and supported Issachar. The charity collector comes to the donor to give the donor the privilege of using his or her wealth for a mitzvah, not to feed the donor’s ego.

The purpose of gold is to glorify G‑d, but once we have it, we are permitted to use it. The purpose of wealth is to support holy causes, and once we have it we may use some of it. But if we reverse the values and use our wealth to glorify ourselves, we are not worthy of the gold.

Heaven and earth must meet; the only question is how. When the wealthy acknowledge that wealth’s purpose is to support holy causes, earth has been lifted to meet heaven. When the wealthy believe that they are visited by distinguished personas because of their personal importance, heaven is hurled down to earth.

Don’t use your money, power, talent, strength or fame to bring heaven down to earth. Use them to bring earth up to heaven. Use every resource that G‑d gave you to make this world a better and holier place. Not so that people glorify you but so that, together, you can glorify G‑d.