Modesty by Max Shulman


In Parashat Devarim, Moshe recounts his telling Bnei Yisrael, “Rav Lachem Sov Et HaHar HaZeh Penu Lachem Tzafonah,” “You have circled this mountain enough; turn Tzafonah” (Devarim 2:3).  The Kli Yakar lived during a time of Jewish prosperity, but he did not approve of how the Jews dealt with their wealth and therefore urged them to be less noticeable with a more modest lifestyle. He says that although Tzafonah literally means northward, it can also mean hidden. In other words, Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael that they have gotten enough here; now, they should hide their riches and not exhibit them.

The Kli Yakar continues, writing that Eisav has a long memory. Whenever Ya’akov (i.e. the Jewish nation) prospers, Eisav believes that it is because Ya’akov stole the blessing. Ya’akov was worried about this, and, therefore, when a famine struck and the only place to get food was Egypt, he sent his children there even though he had enough food. He asked his sons, “Lamah Titra’u,” “Why should you show off?” (Bereishit 42:1). According to Rashi (ibid. s.v. Lamah Titra’u), Ya’akov was concerned about Eisav and Yishma’el, for they would see that while they were starving, Ya’akov had plenty of food.

Many of us living in the United States tend to forget this important lesson that Ya’akov teaches his children. We still live in exile amongst Nochrim and need to watch ourselves, even if we are blessed with prosperity and with nice cars and houses. If one realizes and understands that his wealth comes solely from Hashem and he has almost no effect on his level of richness, then he would live a more modest lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with being blessed with wealth; rather, the problem is how one responds and acts with the wealth. We have recently seen the example of Tiger Woods, who was very wealthy, felt that he was deserving of everything and, therefore, acted in an unacceptable manner. However, if one is wealthy but is a Ba’al Chesed who gives a lot of Tzedakah, he is fulfilling Hashem’s will. We should remember Ya’akov’s question of “Lamah Titra’u” and hopefully do the right thing with the riches with which Hashem blesses us.

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