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The Case Against Hoarding #689

08/20/2021 04:50:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Teitzel
“When you enter another's vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel.” (Deuteronomy 23:25)

The Case Against Hoarding

Last Sunday, with the sun shining and the temperature just right, we decided to pay a few visits to local car dealerships.

For those of you who live outside of Glen Cove, our community was once part of the Gold Coast — playground for New York’s rich and famous.

There are actually two train stations in the community, one, located in the center of town, originally built for workers and servants, and the other, two minutes away, for the rich to disembark and board their carriages or fancy cars.

The classic 1954 movie, Sabrina, starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, was filmed largely in Glen Cove, and in many ways serves as the American version of Downton Abbey.

While most of the business catering to the Woolworths, Morgans and Pratts have closed or moved — our area still boasts luxury car dealerships, including Lexus, Land Rover, and, until recently, Maserati.

So, with my lease expiring in the next few months, the question came up — what is an appropriate car for a rabbi to drive. Is a Rav 4 enough, or should I embrace more luxury in my life?

And, as is often the case during a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive, we found ourselves asking, “What do we really need?”

It was an interesting discussion that carried through the week, and especially when I reviewed this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetzei, which — aside from discussing protocols of love, war, animal rights and loan interest — takes aim at an issue that continues to surround us during the pandemic.

It talks about hoarding, and poses the question. “How much is truly enough?”

Do you remember barely more than a year ago, when the most prized commodity we could acquire was toilet paper? Many walked in and out of stores with two-package limits to fill their own cupboards well beyond what was needed.

This week the Torah tackles the issue of hoarding, posing the question: “Is it okay for workers who pick grapes to ward off hunger by eating some of the produce, and if so, what should be the limit?”

Says the Torah, “When you enter another's vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel.” (Deuteronomy 23:25)

What the Torah is really saying is that a person who works a full day in the field has a right to stave off hunger, but at the same time, simply working in a field does not give a worker the right take large quantities home.

Indeed, the Torah acknowledges that there will always be rich and poor among us. We are all different. One person is sated with more, another other with less. We are entitled to comfortable houses, the best of cars, clothing and technology.

But if we buy something we really don’t need because it is a status symbol, or because we are hoarding for an unknown future, our tradition tells us — like the workers in the field — that we have acquired more than we need, or what we are entitled to.

Notes Rabbi Laser Gurkow, “When we pay extra for something that has no practical benefit except for the social value conferred by the label, we are stoking our ego, not serving our needs.

“If we have a need for something, we have a license to buy it. If it is beyond our needs, we lose our license.”

We live in a world, where nothing is certain. And there are few ways to hedge our bets with regard to what will be valuable in the months or years to come.

That is why we are taught that while it is important to plan for the future, we also need to live in the now.

In just over two weeks, we will convene either on Zoom or in person for Rosh Hashanah, and we will pose the eternal question, “Who will live and who will die?”

The phrase, “Who by earthquake and who by plague?” has acquired an even deeper meaning as we continue to navigate very complex issues surrounding public health, freedom, vaccines, and alarming world events.

Yet, as our tradition teaches, if we take more than we need — especially while leaving the cupboard of our fellow citizens bare — then, we too, can be accused of standing next to the grape picker who takes more than has been provided.

Our sages also teach that with a bit of faith, we too can realize that we have enough; they remind us that we have enough.  

I once heard my friend, Reverend Roger Williams, preach this to his congregants: “We have enough money — it’s a matter of how we spend it. We have enough time, it’s a matter of how we use it. We have enough love — it’s a matter of how we show it.”

The Torah this week empowers us to take what we need out of life, maybe even a little more, but we can never be hoarders, especially at the expense of the community's overall wellbeing.

This Shabbat, in the words of Rabbi Tyler Dratch, “May we notice the fear of scarcity that rests in all of us and recommit to building societies of trust where all in society have enough sweet grapes and hearty grain to thrive.”

As for my choice of a new vehicle, that decision has been placed on hold. It seems that due to supply problems associated with Covid, computer chips essential to new car technological are in short supply. There is a long line of potential car owners desperate for newer models.

In the end, when I really think of it, while the idea of luxury proved to be a nice fantasy, I truly have everything I really need: comfort, a wonderful family and a blessed congregation and community.

It’s always a good question to ponder: “What is it we really need?” In the end, as I internalize this week’s Torah portion, I realize I am content and more than satisfied with what I have.

I hope you feel the same, as we all consider — at the dawn of the New Year — how lucky we all truly are to have as much, if not more, than we really need.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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