Be happy having only what you need

With the Ten Plagues and the other great miracles that God wrought to bring us out of slavery in Egypt, I will admit that the miracle I’m fascinated with in this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, is not as spectacular. It’s kind of a quiet, unpretentious miracle that I am drawn to examine and understand.
Once we escaped Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds on dry land and began our journey through the wilderness, God spoke to Moses (Exodus 16:4): “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion…”
That God provided manna for us in the wilderness, miraculous as it is, isn’t what fascinates me the most. Rather, I am drawn to verses 15-18 later in the chapter: “…And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which the Eternal has given you to eat. This is what the Eternal has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat, an omer (a unit of dry measure) to a person for as many of you as there are; each of you shall fetch for those in his tent.’
“The Israelites did so, some gathering much, some little. But when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered as much as they needed to eat.”
There it is, a small, quiet miracle: Gather much or gather little, everyone had as much as they needed. The fascinating part is that some wanted to gather more and some wanted to gather less, but what they actually got was precisely what they needed.
The entire episode gets me to thinking: How much does a person need, as opposed to how much does a person want? The simple answer is we almost always want more than we need.
I have a personal finance book called “Uncommon Cents” and quoted within it is a study that asked people of four different income levels if they had “enough.” They all answered no. When asked how much more they would need to feel comfortable they all answered “about 10 percent more.” Whether they made a little or a lot, all groups wanted more. It doesn’t matter how much you might make, the desire for more is there and our wants outstrip our actual needs.
Ben Zoma understood this basic truth about human nature when he asked in Pirkei Avot (4:1): “Who is wealthy? The one who is happy with their portion.” It is not possible to be happy with your portion if your portion doesn’t meet your basic needs. But once your basic needs are met, your happiness is up to you. Will you be satisfied with what you have or will you be perpetually unhappy that you don’t have more?
Furthermore, when you are out gathering for yourself, don’t forget about the people left behind in the tents who are unable to gather for themselves. We are commanded also to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. There is sufficiency for all of us, if we look out for each other.
Only you can answer the final question: Whether you gather much or gather little, will you be happy with what you have?
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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