Thoughts to Ponder Number 46
19 Iyar, 5760; May 24, 2000

Satisfaction and the Art of Being

"And the time of threshing shall reach until the vintage and the vintage shall reach the sowing time. You shall eat your bread to satiety and you shall dwell in your land without worry." (Vayikra 26:5)

This blessing is promised to the people of Israel when, as a united nation, it observes the Law of the Torah and lives by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The season when produce is brought to the threshing floor will last until the days of the vineyard, these days, in turn, will continue into the days of sowing.

Rashi (ad loc), quoting Torath Cohanim, makes an extraordinary statement, informing us that the verse is teaching us that one will "eat a little, and it will be blessed in his inwards." He seems to understand this verse in an entirely different way from what we would have imagined. It appears that it is not the quantity of food which will increase, but the quality. The food consumed will possess such a high quality, that eating a little will have the same benefit as eating a large amount would in a year which was not blessed.

The explanation of the verse as understood by Torath Cohanim and Rashi then would indicate that very little food will be used by men through the entire year so that the same amount of food normally consumed in a short period of time will now last much longer. Thus, the time of threshing will hold enough food till the vintage, etc.

There is, however, a completely different way of looking at this verse which may carry great meaning for our days. The famous thinker and teacher of Mussar (Jewish Ethics), Rabbi Yerucham of the Yeshiva of Mir in Poland (20th century) alludes to an even greater miracle which our verse speaks about. This time it is not the quality of food but the spiritual quality of man which makes the difference.

According to Rabbi Yerucham, there will not be any difference between a blessed year and one which is not. Both will produce the same amount and same quality of food. What will change is man's attitude to his physical possessions. Depending on their spiritual condition, human beings will or will not be satisfied with what they have.

To be satisfied and happy is the greatest blessing which can ever be bestowed on man. But such a blessing has absolutely no relation to the amount of food or possessions which man happens to eat or own. The Torah teaches us that when the people of Israel live in accordance with the requirements of the Torah, man will be blessed with a mental condition in which matters of possession and food will take on a completely different dimension. This attitude is not something which man can develop on his own, but will only come about as the result of his attitude towards the divine and God's response. When man has achieved high moral and spiritual latitudes, he will see the world in a very different light. He will, after his basic needs are fulfilled, see himself as what Erich Fromm calls, a "being," one who will "become," and one who sees his essence in his spiritual growth. (See Erich Fromm, "To Have or To Be," Abacus, 1976.) It is not what man "has" but what he "is" which is of real importance. At such a moment, satisfaction is no longer the result of possessing more but of "being" more.

It is most remarkable that the Torah emphasizes that it is, first of all, human action which creates this mind set. Judaism was the first to postulate that mental health and sickness are outcomes of right and wrong living. When people are greedy or ambitious to attain fame we see them as annoying, and we have contempt for them. But, the Torah teaches us that they actually suffer from a kind of mental illness which is the outcome of wrong living.

This also relates to the concept of joy. Joy is the concomitant of productive activity. It is not a peak experience which ends suddenly, but rather a plateau which is the product of one's essential human faculties. It is not the ecstatic fire of the moment but the glow that accompanies "being." It is only with this type of true joy that one is able to be satisfied with little while experiencing it as a lot.

Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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