Let us be Content with Little Let us Serve G-d with Faith
Commenting on the verse that states, “Moses caused Israel to journey from the Red Sea and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur” (Exodus 15:22), Rashi cites the Midrash as follows: He caused them to journey against their will because the Egyptians had adorned their horses with gold, silver, jewels, and precious stones, objects that the Children of Israel collected on the shore. The spoils found by the sea were greater than that which they amassed in Egypt (Tanhuma Bo, 8), as it is stated in the Song of Songs (1:11).
Why did Moses act in this way? Why did he not let the Children of Israel take as much silver and gold by the sea as they wanted? All they would have been doing by this was to obey an explicit Divine command, as it is written, “and you shall empty out Egypt” (Exodus 3:22). Was it not a pity for all these riches, riches that would have allowed them to perform mitzvot and good deeds?
The reason why Moses acted as he did was because he wanted to teach the Children of Israel to be content with little, and not to allow themselves to become seduced by silver or gold, even if it is obtained honestly. The Midrash reports that the Children of Israel became greatly enriched with the spoils of Egypt, and they had more than enough to accomplish mitzvot and build the Tabernacle and Temple (Bamidbar Rabba 13:19). Instead of continuing to amass more, they should have prepared themselves to receive the Torah, the sole aim of their departure from Egypt. They learned that the person who is never content with his lot can never seriously engage himself in Torah study, for “the one who has 100 desires 200” (Kohelet Rabba 1:34).
The Children of Israel were in constant elevation. Each day they tore down a gate of impurity and crossed through a gate of holiness. They purified their body and soul in order to better serve G-d. Then here, the Torah suddenly proclaims that their hands (an allusion to the study of Torah) had slackened. Amalek then came and attacked them.
As we have said, they were filled with Ruach Hakodesh, wisdom, and intelligence, but the gold and silver that they amassed in Egypt disturbed them a little. Their greed testified to a certain lack of trust in G-d, and it was this fault that weakened their study of Torah.
Moses also had to make them journey from Egypt in all haste, and this because an abundance of possessions is likely to lead to sin (see Berachot 32a). The Children of Israel’s constant financial worries weakened their Torah study ever more, and they regretted not having taken more valuable items by the shore of the Red Sea. They wondered how they were going to invest their money in the land of Canaan. This money was, essentially, destined for their service of G-d after receiving the Torah. Yet because they thought about it too much, instead of engaging themselves in Torah study, one can say that they sinned (with respect to their lofty spiritual level) by not having been able to master their material instincts.
Moses therefore had to make them leave Egypt against their will. If he had left them by the seashore for one more day, they would not have been ready to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day, meaning to say the day set by the Eternal, the 6th of Sivan.
Having left Egypt, the Children of Israel continued to think of the money that they had left there. This is why G-d sent them Amalek – it was to show them the price that one pays for neglecting the study of Torah. The Children of Israel understood the lesson. They repented, waged war against their great enemy, and even triumphed over them, as it written: “Joshua weakened Amalek and its people with the sword’s blade” (Exodus 17:13). The Eternal then said to Moses, “Write this as a remembrance in the Book” (v.14) to show that “The L-RD maintains a war against Amalek from generation to generation” (v.16). It is therefore appropriate to take note of the fact that rescinding Torah study generates illness and war (Berachot 33b), as well as the death of children and the war brought on by Amalek.
Each one of us should therefore put an effort into fighting the evil inclination, a force that tries to distance us from the Torah.
According to the commentators, it was because the Jews did “not observe the king’s laws” (Esther 3:8) – meaning that they did not study Torah – that Haman (the descendant of Amalek) wanted to exterminate them. Esther then told Mordechai, “Go, assemble all the Jews” (ibid. 4:16), meaning, “Go study Torah, which is acquired only in a group, and pray with them” (Berachot 63b). The righteous Mordechai therefore assembled the children in the synagogues, and their prayers and their Torah annulled the sentence of the wicked one (Yalkut Shimoni, Esther 1057). The Midrash reports that the voice of the children rose to Heaven, and that night the King could no longer sleep (Esther Rabba 6:1; 9:5). Sleep escaped the Master of the world so that He could help His children and liberate them (Yalkut Shimoni ibid.).
It is therefore proper for an individual to be content with what he has. We should not think that an abundance of money would help us to accomplish many mitzvot and good deeds. This is the work of the Satan, who only looks to beset us with worries and difficulties, and to distance us from the Torah. It was this abundance of wealth that drove the Children of Israel to the sin of the golden calf. Instead of being preoccupied solely with escaping from the 49 levels of impurity during the 49 days of the Omer, the time that the Children of Israel devoted to material affairs harmed their preparation to receive the Torah, and this is what led them to the sin of the golden calf. The one who succumbs to greed taints his faith in G-d. In the final analysis, it is G-d Who opens His hand to “satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalms 145:16).
G-d ordered the Children of Israel to gather the manna, “every man according to what he eats – an omer per person – according to the number of your people, everyone according to whomever is in his tent shall you take” (Exodus 16:16). We may well ask ourselves why this was so. What would happen if one took more?
It is the author of Messilat Yesharim (chap 1) that provides us with the answer. What our Sages teach us is that man was created only to delight in G-d and fully rejoice in the glory of His Shechinah. That is true pleasure. Such a level of refinement is only found in the world to come, which was in fact created for this goal. We cannot reach the desired harbor in this world, which is “like an ante-chamber before the world to come” (Perkei Avoth 4:16). Yet it is only in this world that man feels the elevation of his soul and the Eternal’s existence in every place, as it is written, “The whole world is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). An abundance of wealth has never spiritually elevated man, who should be firmly convinced that even a poor income can be the source of blessing.
Yet the evil inclination deceives a man: “Eat much,” it tells him, “and in this way you will be able to better serve G-d.” There is nothing more erroneous than this, for even if one eats little, one can see his body blessed (see Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai 24:5). It was only those among the Children of Israel who had kept the manna for the next day that showed their lack of faith in G-d. The result? “It became infested with worms and it stank” (Exodus 16:20).
Fearful of losing a faithful friend, the evil inclination searches by all possible means for someone who wants to take to the right path, but only after being “satisfied” with material pleasures. Consequently, a man should distance himself from this as much as possible, and he should stay constantly connected to G-d, both in times of joy as well as in times of grief (G-d forbid). It is in this way that we experience the true pleasures of this world, ones that lead to the sublime pleasures of the world to come.
Nevertheless, let us realize that we attain these pleasures gradually, not immediately. “The one who tries to grab everything,” says the proverb, “seizes nothing.” It was in this way that Yochanan the High Priest, because he incessantly aspired to greatness, became a Sadducee after 80 years of priesthood (Berachot 29a). This is also what happened to Elisha (Acher, “the other”), the teacher of Rabbi Meir. Having entered Paradise, he “mutilated the shoots,” and corrupted himself because he wanted to gain access directly to sublime levels (Hagigah 14b). Hence one whose ascension is slow, gradual, and controlled, and who only aims at getting closer to G-d, is helped by Him. The Children of Israel only acceded to the level of “the generation of knowledge” because they corrected their bad character traits regularly, day after day, for 49 days.