“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Beresheet 32:25)
Yaakov Avinu survived his encounter with Lavan only to face his wicked brother Esav. Since the animosity that Esav felt had not subsided in the 20 years since Yaakov fled to Charan to marry and build a family, Yaakov prepared for war. Prayer, strategy and bribery were the three elements of his defense. First, he prayed to Hashem to protect him as He had promised on Har Hamoriah the night Yaakov slept there and dreamt his “ladder dream.” Then, he split his people into two camps so that, should Esav encounter one camp, the other could flee to safety and ensure the survival of the Jewish people. Lastly, he sent an entourage to his brother bearing gifts of cattle and valuables in order to bribe his brother and persuade him to forgive and forget.
Under the cover of darkness, Yaakov ferried his family and possessions across a river called Nachal Yabok, in order to place a body of water between his camp and his brother’s soldiers. After completing the transfer, Yaakov went back across and was left alone on Esav’s side of the river. Rashi cites the Talmud’s interpretation. Yaakov had forgotten some small earthenware jugs and risked his life to go back into danger to retrieve them. The Sages comment (Chullin 91a): From here we learn “to the righteous, their money is dearer to them than their bodies.” Since the honest person struggles to earn every penny without deception, the money that he earns is dear to him.
Of course, our Rabbis are not suggesting that one risk one’s life for even significant amounts of material wealth. Their intent is that to the righteous, the spiritual use of honestly earned money has a value that should not be treated with indifference.
Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, said that every moment of life is a precious opportunity for spiritual achievement and, therefore, a person should be very particular about the use of every minute of time. One should minimize the amount of time spent acquiring the things of this world.
The Chofetz Chaim said, “Many feel time is money when, in fact, money is time.” If one squanders materialistic possessions, one will then be forced to expend more precious time from one’s life to acquire more to sustain oneself.
Students of the Chofetz Chaim once covered his dirt floor with plain wooden boards. When the Sage saw the addition to his humble home, he appeared pleased, and the students smiled. But then the Chofetz Chaim said: “I wonder how many blatt (pages of) Gemara this floor cost?”
Rav Chasda was a wealthy Sage in the times of the Gemara. When he would walk through an area where there were thorn bushes, he would lift his robes, exposing his legs to the painful scratches and cuts of the thorns, rather than allow his robe to become damaged. If he was rich, why would he subject himself to pain rather than let the garment rip? He, too, realized that this would cost him TIME — the time it would take to earn the money to buy another robe. He chose to suffer physical pain rather than lose a moment laden with potential for spiritual growth. (Bava Kama 91b)
There is a remez — a hint — to this attitude in the message that Yaakov Avinu sent to Esav. He enumerated the wealth he had earned while in the employ of his father-in-law, Lavan: “Vayehi li shor v’chamor… — I have acquired oxen and donkeys….” The Gemara explains that the word “Vayehi” indicates sorrow (Megillah 10b). Yaakov was hinting to Esav: “The wealth I have accumulated causes me sorrow when I think of the time I had to invest in order to get it.” His preference was for spiritual achievement, not for material success.
We too must learn from our Patriarchs and Sages. Everyone was created with a mission. The goal is to create a beautiful abode for eternity in the World to Come. The most important tool we were blessed with to perfect our eternal home is TIME. Every moment in this world is an opportunity to earn untold spiritual wealth for one’s future. The righteous knew that they must survive and support themselves while here in this world — but they felt sorrow over every moment they had to waste in the pursuit of survival.
One should take this lesson and make it one’s credo: “No price can be set on my possessions — they cost me time to acquire.” Keep what you have. Preserve your time wisely. You will become rich — forever!
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.