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Home » Lech L'cha, Life Is Beautiful

Lech L’cha: Unhealthy Dependencies

Submitted by on October 13, 2018 – 11:16 pmNo Comment | 2,062 views


Do you have unhealthy dependencies? Can you give up your smart phone, luxury car, and golf clubs, or have you grown too dependent to let them go? Have you given them power over you?

I am not actually advocating that we give them away. I don’t feel guilty for enjoying the gifts with which G-d has blessed us Instead, I am asking whether we have allowed ourselves to grow so accustomed to our luxuries that we can’t imagine living without them? Have we turned luxuries into necessities? Because if we have, the joke is on us.

Think about it. For thousands of years, our ancestors lived without air-conditioning and heating. Of course, many people died from frostbite and heatstroke, but the human race survived. Today, we are so sensitive to heat and cold that the moment our bodies feel the slightest bit of discomfort, we rush to activate the heating and air condition. Is this bad? No. Not at all. But look in the mirror and ask yourself point blank, have I turned my luxuries into dependencies and my personal comfort into an addiction?

Suppose there was a drastic and terrible depression and we all lost our homes and bank accounts. Suppose we would have to trim down the size of our home, wardrobe, and the costly way we live. What would happen, would we survive? The answer is a resounding yes. We can live without a sprawling home, luxury car, padded bank account and investment portfolio. So where is the tragedy?

The tragedy is not that we might lose these comforts. The tragedy is that the specter of losing them frightens us. That is tragic. We should feel free to enjoy every luxury available to us. There is no reason to feel shame or guilt about enjoying it. But we should never allow them to turn into dependencies.

Our smart phones are wonderful tools that connect us to the internet and to each other. They organize our lives, keep track of our calendars, files, documents, pictures, bank accounts and contacts. But what would happen if we lost our phones and were suddenly incommunicado? What would happen if we could not check our newsfeed every five minutes, count our likes every three seconds, or turn every encounter into a pose for Instagram?

Life would be much simpler and enjoyable. It would be a little cumbersome to get in touch with people, but our quieter lives will be a relief. In other words, the smart phone is a wonderful tool so long as we treat it as a tool. The moment we treat it as a necessity, the smart phone is no longer our tool. We become its prisoner. Social media is a wonderful tool, but the moment Facebook and Twitter become dependencies, they are no longer our tool. Instead, we become enslaved to Silicon Valley.

Don’t Lean

There was once a wealthy, but pious Jew, who lived in an eclectic Jewish community. He often exhorted others not to put too much stock in money. He would tell them to take time off each night for Torah study, to make time for family, and to spend their earnings on Jewish books. One impoverished member of the community resented the wealthy man’s exhortations. It is easy to preach against enjoying luxuries and stockpiling money when you are awash in it, he would grouse. I wonder how this man would respond if he were as poor as I am.

Then one day, the wealthy man’s factory went up in flames and he lost his entire fortune. True to form, he came to the synagogue and announced that money is unimportant and that his loss of fortune would not mar his happiness. The impoverished Jew was astonished. How do you manage, he demanded to know?

The formerly wealthy Jew explained with an analogy. In the code of Jewish law, there is a rule that forbids leaning on the Torah reading table, while reading from the Torah. The code clarifies that we may lean on the table, but not to the extent that if it were to be removed, we might fall. This, explained the formerly wealthy man, is how I leaned on my wealth. I enjoyed it and used it well. I leaned on it, but I held my own weight. I never turned my fortune into dependencies.

Climbing the Mountain

King David famously observed, “Who can ascend the mountain of G-d and stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”[1] You can’t climb a mountain if you are weighed down by burdens.  To make the climb, our hands must be free, and our hearts must be pure. We can’t climb if we lack confidence or are carrying deadweight.

If this is true of physical mountains, it is certainly true of emotional and spiritual mountains. To ascend G-d’s mountain means to transcend our petty egos and to embrace the noble and exalted truth of G-d. We can’t do that when we are obsessed with making our next dollar or enjoying our precious luxuries.

The Wealthy Abraham

The Torah tells us that Abraham returned from Egypt, “laden with cattle, silver, and gold,” gifts he had received from Pharaoh. But the Torah goes on to tell us that Abraham “went on his journeys, from the south and until Beth el.”[2] The south is at the bottom of the country. Abraham traveled upward from the bottom to Beth el—the house of G-d.

The Torah is not only talking about a physical journey, but a proverbial one. Laden with cattle, silver, and gold, Abraham was not weighed down. He ascended the mountain of G-d, from the lowest rung in the south, Egypt-the land of immorality, to the highest rung in the north, the House of G-d.

How did he accomplish this journey while laden with possession, did we not learn earlier that according to King David, one can only make this journey with free hands and a clear soul?

The answer is that despite his wealth, Abraham’s had free hands and a pure soul. He used his wealth, and leaned on it, but never allowed it to hold his weight. Wealth and luxury don’t weigh us down unless we allow them to. If we become prisoner to our toys, they will weigh and slow us down. But if our toys belong to us, and we are free to treat them as we wish, we are not weighed down.

The ultimate test of whether we are slaves or lords, occurs when we are asked to give them up. If we are asked to let a refugee family move into our cottage on the beach, if our neighbor’s son goes off to college without a car, and we have an extra car, how easy is it for us to give it up? The answer to that question, tells us whether the toy under discussion is our tool or our overlord.

Abraham passed this test. Indeed, later in life, he gave away all the gifts that he had received from Pharaoh. [3] He wanted none of it. This tells us that even when he had them in his possession, they were his possessions, not his dependencies.[4]

[1] Psalms 24.

[2] Genesis 13, 2-3.

[3] Genesis 25:6.

[4] This essay is based on commentary of Divrei Yisroel, Rabbi Yisra’el of Kosnitz, on Genesis 13:2-3.

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