It was my turn to pay at the cash register in the supermarket. I handed them my debit card. Denied. I handed them my other debit card. Denied. “Will you take a check?” They wouldn’t. (I didn’t blame them; I wouldn’t either want to take a check from someone whose two credit cards were rejected!) I counted how much cash I had with me—not enough to cover the bill.

The people in line were starting to get antsy, the cashier impatient. “Okay, no problem,” I told myself. I looked in my cart and started to take things out. “We don’t need the juice, or this . . .” I wanted to get down to what I really needed, get down to the essentials. I paid for what I could, and left the store. Part of me felt embarrassed, humiliated. The other part of me questioned, “What’s so wrong with making do with what G‑d gives you? If this is what we have, why do I feel deprived if I don’t have more?”

I counted how much cash I had with me—not enough to cover the billWhen Jacob left his parents’ home, escaping his brother Esau, he had a dream. There was a ladder. Angels were going up the ladder and angels were going down. G‑d appeared to Jacob in the dream and told him, “. . . Behold, I am with you; and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoken for you” (Genesis 28:15). When Jacob got up in the morning, he made a vow to G‑d and asked Him to “give me bread to eat and clothes to wear.”

Jacob had just woken up from a prophecy where G‑d Himself had promised to always be with him. Really, he could have asked for anything. Why not ask for riches? Or, at least, for comfort, for a brand-new horse (or a car, in today’s language), gold, silver. At least ask for a rib-eye steak! Instead, Jacob asked for bread to eat and clothes to wear. “G‑d, give me what I need, not more than I need. Give me what You know is best for me and what will bring out the best in me.” Later, we do see that G‑d blessed Jacob with great wealth, many children and extreme honor. But Jacob never asked for any of it, and he knew that they were not for him or for the sole purpose of pleasure; they were tools that he was given in order to elevate himself spiritually and get closer to his divine source.

The other day I passed a store where there were shoes on a ridiculous sale, for only three dollars. Three-dollar shoes! Can you imagine? Pick your color; for thirty dollars you can have every color of shoe in the rainbow, and more. It was some sort of closeout sale, and people were buying them like crazy. I see this all the time. I, too, am guilty of it. You open up your closet, and you have clothes that you either forgot about or that you have never even worn! The phone, or computer gadget, that was $200 is now on sale for $25! Buy it! Do you need it? Of course not, but you’ll convince yourself that you do, because it is such a bargain. People go into debt by buying “bargains.” For what? To have your shoes perfectly match your new skirt, which of course has to perfectly match your shirt. There’s no end to it, there’s no joy to it, there’s no elevation in it. If anything, it leaves you feeling empty and craving more.

“In Gibeon, G‑d appeared to Solomon in a dream of the night. G‑d said to him, ‘Request what I should give to you’ (I Kings 3:5).

Solomon asked for wisdom and understanding.

“It was good in the eyes of the L‑rd . . . ‘Because you have requested this thing, and you have not requested length of days, and have not requested riches, and have not requested the life of your enemies, but you have requested understanding, to comprehend justice—behold, I have acted in accordance with your words . . . Furthermore, even that which you have not requested I have granted you—even riches and honor—all your days, such as never has been to any man among the kings like you’” (Ibid. 3:10–13).

Sadly, we are influenced by a society that eats not when it’s hungry, but when it’s boredKing Solomon is marked down in history, not for his great wealth but for his incredible wisdom. Wisdom and closeness to G‑d he asked for, and this is what he got, as well as so much more. This is the same King Solomon who teaches us, “A lover of money will never be satisfied with money; a lover of abundance has no wheat. This, too, is futility. As goods increase, so do those who consume them; what advantage, then has the owner except what his eyes see?” (Ecclesiastes 5:9–10).

Sadly, we are influenced by a society that eats not when it’s hungry, but when it’s bored, and we give cookies and candies to our children just to keep them quiet. We are distracted by access, and it’s disheartening, because we are so much more than that. Rabbi Schneur Zalman said, “That which is forbidden is of course, prohibited. But much of what is permissible is unnecessary.” It’s not that we are supposed to deprive ourselves, and that doing so is the only means to grow and feel good about ourselves. Quite the contrary. In Jewish law we see that, for example, on the holidays one is supposed to eat meat and wine, and give candies to their children; in preparation for the holiday, a husband should buy his wife new clothes and jewelry. But this is for a specific purpose. These are supposed to be means of getting closer to G‑d. However, by indulging in the unnecessary, we too often get distracted from our goal, not closer to it.

I’m about to go to the supermarket now. I sit down with a paper and pen. I make a list of the items that we really need and that we can afford. I do this because I know that it’s too easy to go there and get off track.

“G‑d, please just give me bread to eat and clothes to wear. Grant me wisdom and understanding, and let me always be happy with my lot.”