Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5770
Ein Ayah: The Real Purpose of Ostensibly Excessive Wealth
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:50)
Gemara: Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeini said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: How do we know that Hashem later agreed to Moshe’s claim [that the riches that Bnei Yisrael took from Egypt contributed to the sin of the Golden Calf]? The pasuk (Hoshea 2:10) says: “Silver I gave to her in abundance, and gold they made to the Ba’al (a form of idolatry).”
Ein Ayah: The main corruptive element of over satiation was the fact that Bnei Yisrael had more gold than they needed. This was most felt in the desert, where their physical needs were few and they were overloaded with gold and silver. Hashem’s intention in so doing was good: so that the resources would be ready to be used upon entering Eretz Yisrael. There it could be put to use to adorn the newly settled country with things that are appropriate for an entire special nation that should be elevated with a grandeur that befits its ethical status. A tremendous amount of money was needed to have the resources necessary to have an ideal physical level.
Had the people recognized the fact that their great riches were not actually excessive, considering the needs of settling down in an inhabited land, they would not have had the haughtiness associated with excess. The problem is that they focused on the present situation and allowed the excess to go to their heads. This phenomenon can occur in any generation, where great riches appear to one as excess, but this is because people do not have an idea how many resources are needed. An entire nation must be properly outfitted with its needs of being content with its lot. It is also necessary to enable the growth of Torah knowledge and wisdom of the heart and mind and fear of G-d in the nation of bold-hearted people. If they would know everything that is needed, they would realize that they were still missing a lot and needed to continue working and making efforts to obtain helpful resources.
The experience of striving for more would entrench in Bnei Yisrael’s hearts the idea that, as servants of the Master whose shleimut is limitless, their shleimut also is limitless. This understanding would have saved them from idol worship. Instead, they looked at the apparent excess as a sign that they may look for additional pleasure to enjoy on the level of shleimut that they already achieved. This limiting of the goals is a contributing factor to idol worship, of abandoning the limitless springs of living water to embrace the stale waters of a pit.
The idea of a distinction between adorned necessities and luxurious excesses is captured by the reference to silver and gold. Silver can be used for all sorts of useful utensils, just that it makes them more honorable, as appropriate for honored people. However, gold is a sign of excess. Therefore, the pasuk reports from His perspective, “silver I gave to her in abundance,” enough for them to have a grand future. From the nation’s perspective, they had gold on hand that they could use in the following tragic way: “gold they made to the Ba’al.” While the matter was problematic because the people looked at the present, we can understand that Hashem actually provided the abundance of gold for a noble and productive purpose.
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