“Why do you have such a big house with so few children?”

Whenever I feel deprived, unsatisfied with what I own, I remind myself of this question. A young Israeli girl was visiting America with her mother. When she saw my friend’s tiny (by American standards) duplex with four (quite a brood in America) young children running about, she was so confused! How could such a huge house (by Israeli standards) be the shelter for this tiny (again, by Israeli standards) family? Imagine feeling perplexed at the notion of taking up more space than one needs.

Millionaires complain of the expense of owning a second homeAt the other end of the spectrum, my husband works in the world of high finance, where some of the most fortunate people have made millions, and occasionally, even billions. Unfortunately, they rarely gain satisfaction through their wealth. The millionaires complain of the expense of owning a second home. A man with tens of millions, the owner of several homes around the world and a private jet, related wistfully of a colleague who built his own landing strip to more efficiently reach his island home. This man, in turn, lamented his landing strip compared to the man who owned a private island. So where does it stop?

It stops with Jacob. In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, Jacob is set to meet his brother Esau after years of estrangement since Jacob received the blessing from their father Isaac. Jacob knows that Esau is approaching with 400 men, yet it is unclear what his intentions are. Is he coming to seek revenge or reconciliation? After preparing for either outcome through an escape plan, prayer, and pre-emptive gifts, the brothers meet face to face. Much to Jacob’s relief, it is a peaceful reunion.

Esau politely refuses Jacob’s generous gifts, “I have rav—a lot,” he tells him. Jacob implores him to accept, “I have kol—all.” Amazingly, an entire universe exists between these two monosyllabic Hebrew words! Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, tells us that Esau’s rav conveys arrogance. In stating that he has much, he is expressing that he has more than he will ever need, Jacob’s gifts will simply be another materialistic acquisition in his already overflowing coffers.

Jacob has all, everything he needs. Even in giving this very generous gift to his brother, he still has everything—he does not measure his worth through material goods. He sees his wealth as a means to allow him to continue his spiritual work, strengthening his and his family’s connection with each other and with G‑d.

No amount of wealth can guarantee a sense of satisfaction with lifeEsau’s material wealth appears to have interfered with what really matters in life. Rashi points out that Jacob and his family, which number 70 at the beginning of Exodus, are referred to as one soul, nefesh. Esau’s family, though numbering only six, are referred to later in the Torah portion with the word for plural souls, nefashot (Breishit 46:26). Money can not make up for family disunity. In fact, strife comes to Jacob’s house later on because of a material imbalance among the brothers: Joseph’s coat of many colors.

No amount of wealth can guarantee a sense of satisfaction with life. Any visit to the supermarket checkout line with its glaring tabloid headlines can attest to this. In fact, as the little girl visiting from Israel can attest, everyone has a chance to achieve Jacob’s sense of kol, everything. As the Sages say, “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.”