Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – Conclusion

In the previous installment, Rav Shimon wrote, “שאם יאמינו שכל חכמתם וקנינם לא להם הוא, הרי אז אבדו כל עשרם, ורק על ידי הכפירה יתעשרו — If they believe that all their wisdom and all they acquired were not theirs, they would lose all their wealth. Only through heretical denial can they make themselves rich.”

It would seem Rav Shimon is basing his language on Ben Zoma’s famous statement in Avos 4:1:

… איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר “יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ.” (תהילים קכח,ב)

… Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

Since people want to feel like self-made men, someone who can’t claim credit for their accomplishments are poor. This connection isn’t first made in Shaarei Yosher, it is inherent in Ben Zoma’s choice of proof text — “when you eat the labor of your hands.”

Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu“? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood granted us on Pesach, and the Torah given on Shavu’os. But the mun is gone, the cloud of glory that protected us have dissipated, Hashem’s guiding pillar no longer shows us the way — nothing we commemorate on Sukkos is still in our hands. Yes, we can still get food, shelter and guidance from the natural means He gave us — but the same was true before the desert! Chag haAsif, Sukkos in its role as the holiday of gratitude, is also “Zeman Simchaseinu — our period of [greatest] joy” because only through being grateful can we handle being recipients with simchah.

In this way one can explain that which is said, “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” [Shabbos Morning Amidah] There is no joy in receiving a bit of wisdom unless he is a reliable servant who possesses nothing, that it is all his Master and Lord’s. Only then there is complete joy in acquiring wisdom. Without this [attitude] it is possible that there is no happiness in acquiring wisdom, for it through it he is capable of reaching heresy.
ועל דרך זה יש לבאר האמור “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו”, היינו שאין לשמוח במתנת חלק החכמה, רק אם הוא עבד נאמן שחושב שהכל אינו שלו ורק לרבו ואדונו, אז שמחה שלמה בקנין החכמה, ולולא זאת אפשר שאין שמחה בקנין החכמה שעל ידי זה ח״ו יוכל להגיע לידי כפירה ח״ו,

We say in the Shabbos morning Amidah, “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו” which I translated here as “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” There are two interesting elements with the grammar of this line.

First, the use of the word “ישמח”, which for simplicity I rendered “will be joyous”. But did Moshe’s joy not begin yet? I think the point is more the Biblical Hebrew use of this conjugation: imperfective aspect rather than future tense. If this is correct, then a more accurate translation would be “Moshe is continuously happy….” (I just didn’t want to enshrine my theory in the translation.)

Second, Ben Zoma speaks of happiness “בחלקו — with his lot”, but the siddur talks of Moshe’s happiness “במתנת חלקו — with the giving of his portion.” This speaks directly to our topic of Self-Interest and the consequent need to claim credit for our accomplishments. Moshe could be happy with his portion without this second level, being happy with the fact that it was given, and not emphasizing his own role in the reception of what Hashem was even willing to call “Toras Moshe avdi — the Torah of Moses My servant”.

How do we avoid the slippery slope from the need to attend to one’s self and take pride in what one creates to the ills of egotism and haughtiness? By fully accepting one’s role as Hashem’s servant. “Because You called him a reliable servant.”

The only way to be content or happy is to priorize one’s life in a way that He can call you “a reliable servant”. As Rav Shimon put it, “שיהיה אדיר חפצנו, להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול — … so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were).” If I have a job to do, I care less about where things come from than what I can accomplish with what I have. By making one’s life about giving to others, one doesn’t focus on receiving. Rather than egotism, one realizes that one is a critical part of a bigger whole.

And that brings us to Rav Shimon’s next topic…

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