As we read last week, Yaakov left his parent’s home to live with his uncle Lavan, both to escape the anger of his brother Esav and to find a wife. Now, upon his return with his family, he hoped to make peace with Esav — and so Yaakov sent him an elaborate gift of hundreds of cattle.
When Yaakov and Esav met, Yaakov explained that his gift was a peace offering, to make a favorable impression upon Esav. Esav, however, turned it down, explaining “I have so much already. You should keep it.” Yaakov then pressed Esav to keep the gift, saying “take the gift that was brought to you, because G-d has shown me favor and I have everything (Gen. 33:8-11).” At that point, Esav agreed to accept it.
In this exchange, both Esav and Yaakov declared how much they have and how the other should therefore take the gift, yet in the end Esav gave in. How did Yaakov succeed in convincing Esav to take the gift?
Esav and Yaakov said almost the same thing, but the way they expressed their sentiment was worlds apart. Esav said, “I have so much.” He said he was wealthy, but he didn’t say he had enough. Yaakov, on the other hand, explained “I have everything.” Once a person has everything, there is nothing more to acquire.
Obviously, Yaakov did not literally have everything. What he meant was that G-d had provided him with everything he needed, and he was satisfied. He did not aspire to have more. Since Esav, by contrast, had implied he would be happy to achieve greater wealth, he buckled to the pressure and accepted the gift.
We possess a natural desire to acquire more — yet our successes, rather than providing satisfaction, simply feed that insatiable desire. As the Sages of the Talmud say, “One who has 100, wants 200. If he has 200, wants 400 (Koheles Raba 1:34).” If, on the other hand, we adopt Yaakov’s attitude of “G-d always gives me everything I need,” then the desire to have more is muted.
Will we ever become wealthy with this attitude? Absolutely — in fact, it is the only way to truly become wealthy. As the sage Ben Zoma said, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with what he has (Avos: 4:1).”