Which is harder, the test of poverty or the test of wealth?

Jacob was faced with two diametrically opposed tests. He passed them both.

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg
INN:DG

The Ramchal, in Mesilat Yesharim, writes:’All matters of this world, both for the good and the bad, are נסיונות: tests for man, poverty on the one hand, and riches on the other’, as said Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 30:7-9)

’Two things have I asked of Thee, before I die; Remove far from me falsehood and lies; give me neither poverty, nor riches, feed me only with my allotted bread; Lest I be full, and deny and say:Who is the Lord; Or that I be poor, and steal and profane the name of my G-d’.

And, say the parshanim, Yaakov Avinu (the Patriarch Jacob), was subjected to both these tests, and withstood both.

We read of Yaakov’s wondrous vision, of the ladder whose foot is on the earth, and whose head reaches the heavens, on which angels ascend and descend, and Hashem ‘stands’ upon it. And Hashem promises Yaakov Avinu that He will be with him, and not leave him, until He returns Yaakov to this place AND, on awakening from this vision, Yaakov makes a vow:(28:20-22)’

If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way I am going;..and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be a G-d to me- then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of G-d, and whatever You give me, I shall repeatedly tithe to You’.

Expounds the Ktav Sofer:’Now, there are two kinds of נסיונות: tests: first, the test of poverty, as when a person is bereft of all means, he may rebel against Hashem, steal and be angry at the ways of Hashem; the second is the test of wealth, as it may cause the person to become haughty, and forget Hashem, saying:’I made all this wealth!’.

‘We find that Yaakov Avinu withstood both of these tests: When he went from his father’s house, he was deprived of all his possessions’, by Eliphaz, Esau’s son, and yet remained steadfast in his Emunah in Hashem.

‘And, when he left the house of Laban, he had accumulated great wealth, yet his Emunah in Hashem was as it was at the outset, when he had ‘nothing’.

‘This was his entreaty to Hashem:’If You will be with me, and guard me in the way that I shall go’, the way of wealth, and keep me from ‘rebelling’ against You, despite my new-found wealth, then I will make a זכרון: a sign to these two tests that I have been undergone: ‘this stone which I have set as a memorial’, which was one of the stones in which I laid my head to rest, in the time of my poverty, I will make as a memory of the house of G-d; ‘and all that you give me’, in gratitude for the wealth You later gave me, ‘I will tithe all that I have’.

Queries Haktav veHakabala :’Literally read, Yaakov Avinu appears to have made his ‘acceptance’ of Hashem conditional on the fulfillment of all that Hashem had promised him, in the vision: ‘and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be a G-d to me’- and, from this we also learn the ‘converse’: and, if not, you will not be my G-d’!

Rav Shimon Schwab provides a beautiful answer:’Yaakov Avinu’s fear was that, as a result of the fulfillment of Hashem’s promises, he would succeed in all that he did, and would prosper, AND he prays, that he is able to withstand the test of wealth, and that, despite the wealth, ‘Hashem will be a G-d to me’: that he will know that all is from the hand of G-d, and that his success will not change his service of Hashem’.

Rav Pinchas Friedman asks:’Why did Hashem bring about that Yaakov Avinu should go to Charan, to establish the House of Israel, bereft of all?’.

He brings the answer of the Chiddushei Ha’rim:’Hashem wanted us to know that, from our part, we are ‘powerless’, and that our ‘power’ is only our Emunah in Hashem.

Therefore, adds Rav Friedman, ‘Hashem ‘operated’ that Yaakov should be confronted with the test of poverty, on his way to Charan, as by overcoming it, and remaining steadfast in his Emunah in Hashem, he paved the way for all the generations of our people, to be able to withstand the test of poverty.

‘And, as everything follows the beginnings, and the foundation of our people was the union of Yaakov with his wives and their hand-maidens, from which the holy twelve tribes were to be borne, Hashem tried him with the test of poverty, so that by he withstanding it, and remaining firm in his Emunah, this would be instilled as the foundation of all future generations of their descendants’.

Rav Friedman ‘sweetens’ our learning, by asking:’Which is the harder test: the test of poverty OR the test of prosperity?’

Decides the Alshich Hakadosh :’The test of wealth is harder than the test of poverty, because poverty makes the person humble, whereas prosperity causes the person to be haughty.

‘The poor person turns to Hashem, to alleviate his straits; the wealthy person, as the Torah adjures us, may ‘turn away from Hashem’, feeling that ‘his strength and might‘ were the cause of his success’.

Concludes Rav Friedman:’This was Yaakov’s prayer, that Hashem ‘will be with me in this way..and I return in peace to my father’s house’: that both when I leave my father’s house, and have to contend with the test of poverty, AND on my return, as a wealthy man, ‘Hashem will be a G-d to me’- that I successfully withstand both the test of poverty, and the test of wealth.

‘And that I pave the way for all my future descendants, that they too will be able to withstand both these tests’.

A parting thought from Rav Friedman:’The ‘ladder set earthwards’, in Yaakov’s dream, alludes to the test of poverty, whilst ‘its top reached heavenward’, alludes to those whose fortunes ‘ascend’; ‘and behold! angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it’, alludes to the heavenly messengers that Hashem sends, to raise people from the test of poverty to prosperity, and vice versa; but in both tests:’Hashem was standing over him’, to assist man to succeed in his test, and to remain faithful to Hashem’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.

Danny Ginsbourg is a retired lawyer who made aliya from Australia a decade ago. He has written five volumes of Torah thoughts in Hebrew,and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.for the two volume Davsha shel Torah to which there are already several sequels.



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