A Thought at 30

10:00 pm. I stand at a fork in the road: my “Hebrew birthday,” as the kids call it, began two hours ago; my “English birthday” begins in two hours. A fine moment for reflection, as much for the poignancy of the occasion as for the question implied by being halfway between two such markers in time. A chronological manifestation of what Marc Shapiro would call the ephemeral challenge of one’s being Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy.

Either way: ברוך שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה. The mind boggles; the eyes tear. A wonderful wife. Two beautiful children. The greatest job I could ever hope for: the sweetest, most receptive, most sensitive young people to learn with every day; and the most caring and understanding support staff I could imagine. Recently, our first purchased car. And yesterday, our first purchased house.

Today I happened to learn the Tefillah of ויברך דוד with my learners. When broken up correctly (as no Siddur seems to do), this is a very short Tefillah recorded in Divrei Hayamim, one said by Dovid Hamelech to the collective Jewish presence when he was nearing death and preparing to pass along his vast storehouse of wealth to his son, Shlomo. The thrust of the Tefillah is simply this: והעושר והכבוד מלפניך, ואתה מושל בכל – all that Hashem has given me, all of the wealth and vast resources which you see surround me here today, has been entrusted to me as a loan, as an opportunity to be returned in the form of Divine service. At the same time, I recognize that I am not permitted to do so, and so I am entrusting my son Shlomo to do the same. In class we compared wealth amassed in one’s lifetime to a collection of library books filling one’s home. While one may look like a fine collector of books, in truth all of them will have to be returned within a matter of weeks. Wealth granted to us by Hashem is merely that, a grant. A grant used illegitimately is of no consequence and obfuscates the original purpose of the grant – it is either spent properly or returned. Resources given to us by Hashem function in much the same way – they are part of a grant for use in service of Him, and any other purpose is illegitimate. והעושר והכבוד מלפניך, ואתה מושל בכל.

The students. The house. The family. At 30, the more Hashem gives me, the more conscious I am of this message: it is all from You – and not a gift, but a loan, to be processed for Your service and returned expressly to You. והעושר והכבוד מלפניך, ואתה מושל בכל.

I am reminded of a famous insight into the qualitative difference between Yaakov and Eisav. When the two meet after their extended vacation, Eisav brags to his brother (Bereishit 33:9) that יֶשׁ לִי רָב, I have amassed a lot of goods. Yaakov, on the other hand, tells Eisav just two peuskim later that יֶשׁ לִי כֹל – I have everything. We need to live in a יֶשׁ לִי כֹל way. When one receives a grant for a particular purpose, it is an unexpected addition to his overall financial portfolio. He cannot legitimately expect any more than that. That’s יֶשׁ לִי כֹל. All of our lives should be lived with that feeling, because it is all a loan, unexpected income, meant to be repackaged in the form of Divine service and returned to its Source. Unfortunately, we often forget this message and believe that we hold personal entitlement to any of these Divine loans, and thus also that we can do with them as we wish.

יֶשׁ לִי כֹל.
With each new day, יֶשׁ לִי כֹל.
With each new year, each new decade of life, העושר והכבוד מלפניך.
None of it is deserved, nor any of it truly earned. It is all a gigantic opportunity to serve Hashem. Each gift thrown newly into the mix is like another prop thrown onto the grand improvisational stage of life, begging the same question: How can this be used to serve Hashem, in combination with the collection of gifts which it joins?

This is the challenge a new gift. A new day. A new year. יֶשׁ לִי כֹל, ואתה מושל בכל.

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