Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5768
Monetary SanctificationHarav Yosef Carmel
The famous joke, which baruch Hashem, is less true than it once was, goes like this: “What is the best way to be a millionaire in Israel? To come with $10 million.” Let’s develop that idea after a little Torah learning.
Yaakov came up with a great plan (however it worked, which included a lot of Divine help) to amass a lot of livestock in a short time right before his exit from his father-in-law’s house. He thereby also managed to arouse the jealousy and anger of Lavan and his family. Why did Yaakov not slowly amass his possessions over time (admittedly, according to some explanations he did try)?
Allow us to answer a question with another question. Rashi (Bereishit 46:6) deduces from the description of what Yaakov brought down with him to Egypt (many years later) that he had previously gotten rid of the property he acquired outside Eretz Yisrael. Giving it to Eisav in exchange for rights to Me’arat Hamachpela, he said, “The property of the Diaspora is not worthwhile for me.” So why did he expend so much effort acquiring it and protecting it (see Rashi to 32:25) if he was not interested in keeping it? It is also interesting to note that much of the historical Jewish riches were acquired in chutz la’aretz (e.g., Avraham and Bnei Yisrael in Egypt).
We are now ready to suggest answers to our questions. Yaakov was not interested in being wealthy in chutz la’aretz, as he had asked only for bread and clothes (Bereishit 28:20). When asked for a price for his work, he asked for Rachel’s hand in marriage, with no dowry. Despite his large family, he still was in no rush. However, when the time came to return to Eretz Yisrael, he explained to Lavan, “When will I make for my house?” One could say that this referred to his household, but it is likely that it referred to his future permanent home in Israel or even to the “house [of worship]” he promised upon arriving there (ibid.:22). In other words, as long as the riches amassed in chutz la’aretz stayed in chutz la’aretz, Yaakov had little interest in them. However, when it could be used to soon build a foundation in the Land, it was valuable to him. The same was true of the riches Avraham brought home from Egypt and those Bnei Yisrael started their nationhood with on the way to the Promised Land. Yaakov got rid of the chutz la’aretz riches, either in strengthening his claim to key locations in the Land (see Midrash Tanchuma, Vayishlach 11 and Bereishit 33:19) or before leaving the Land to go to Egypt. He brought with him that which he had amassed in Israel, as those funds were already sanctified in the Land where working the land is sanctity. That which Yaakov amassed in chutz la’aretz to be used in chutz la’aretz was something that a holy man like him did not need.
So, if one had $10M that turned into $1M, with the rest being swallowed up but invested in
Eretz Yisrael, that was altogether a pretty good deal.
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