Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.
(The Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1)

Dinner is over, but my work is far from done. A small portion of spaghetti bolognaise waits for me on the floor, while an overturned bowl reveals only part of the story. My toddler likes spaghetti bolognaise. In fact, he loves it, which is why I made it for him tonight. The first two bowlfuls went down well. The trouble started when he requested a third bowl. Now, even very active toddlers have a limit to how much spaghetti bolognaise they can eat, and I had a suspicion that anything leftover would wind up on the floor.

I played it safe. I gave him another small spoonful. "More, more!" he responded, dangling his bowl over the side of his high chair tray. I added two more noodles. "More, more!" he insisted, continuing to hold his bowl over the side of his tray. His threat was obvious. I added a single additional strand, and said firmly, "That's it."

"More, more!" he insisted.

"No more," I responded firmly, "That's it."

He chucked the bowl onto the floorNow he got the message. The problem is that he didn't like the message he was getting. He looked me in the eye, and very deliberately, turned the bowl upside down and dropped the contents on the floor. Then, for good measure, he chucked the bowl onto the floor as well. He looked at the mess he had made. Then he looked at me and smiled, as though to say, "Either you give me what I want on my terms, or I am not accepting anything from you at all."

I looked at the floor. It was a small mess. A contained mess. But it was also a wake-up call. I too am frequently the recipient of gifts that don't come on my terms. Looking at the blob of spaghetti on the floor, I wondered how often I respond to my Benefactor in the same way.

My life is filled with blessings. Yet I can easily pass an entire day focusing entirely on what I am lacking. I can get caught up in small frustrations and spend hours agonizing over miniscule losses. I can, in a sense, ignore the first two bowls of spaghetti and focus entirely on the fact that the third bowl is not entirely to my liking.

It's Elul, which is written with the Hebrew letters: Aleph, Lamed, Vov, Lamed. Written backwards it would spell: Lamed, Vov, Lamed, Aleph. Read this way, it spells two Hebrew words, the juxtaposition of which explain the entire struggle of this month. Lamed-Vov spells Lo – which means "for Him." Lamed-Aleph also spells Lo though the different letter changes the meaning to "No," a negation of our own self-interest. Elul poses the question: Who and what are we promoting in our life? Are we spending our time and our energy merely pursuing our own self-interests and self-advancement, or are we capable of accepting the challenge of Elul and recognizing that spiritual growth involves shifting our focus from the material realm and the realm of self-gratification in order to focus on the spiritual side of our existence, the side which concerns the meaning and purpose of our lives.

Allowing ourselves to become overly dependant on physical comforts can get in the way of our freedom to pursue spiritual goals. Sometimes G‑d helps us out by giving us a nudge in the right direction. He says "No" to something we want, which is in a sense saying "Enough of this already." The challenge of Elul means recognizing that G‑d is still speaking to us, even when He says "no."

The experience of satiety finally becomes possibleAs long as we continue to need more than we have, we remain in a state of incompletion, which we experience as an insatiable need for more. But when we begin to find fulfillment in what we already possess, then, for the first time, the experience of happiness and satiety finally becomes possible to us. G‑d wants us to experience the fullness and satisfaction lying just beneath the surface of our desire for more. So when He sees us getting caught up in the endless cycle of the bottomless more, he gives us a gift, the gift of a firm, "That's It. No More."

When this is the response we receive to our request for more, then, like the demanding toddler, we need to learn how to accept it gracefully, rather than emptying the rest of our bowl onto the floor. The difference between Jacob and Esau is that when comparing their wealth, Esau answered, "I have plenty," while Jacob, who had much less, answered, "I have it all" (Genesis 3:9). G‑d wants us, too, to experience the contentment of having it all. What prevents us from experiencing true satisfaction in our lives is our continual need for more.

This Elul, let's work on recognizing the blessing concealed in the gift of enough.