It has been suggested that one of the major challenges of our generation are entitlements. I’m not referring to governmental entitlements, but rather the sense of entitlement that pervades society whereby people believe that they deserve and are entitled to something. This challenge also is found in many homes where children are of the opinion that they are entitled to an iPhone at age 8, a car at 17, an all-expenses paid Spring Break vacation at 19…
What does our Torah have to say about this entitlement mentality?
Our Parsha this week, Vayishlach, clearly demonstrates the divine approach to this phenomenon. The Passage begins with our father Yaakov sending messengers to find out if his brother Esau is still harboring resentment form thirty years earlier when he acquired the blessings from his father Yitzchak. This is what ensues:
וַיָּשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ הַמַּלְאָכִ֔ים אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב לֵאמֹ֑ר בָּ֤אנוּ אֶל־אָחִ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־עֵשָׂ֔ו וְגַם֙ הֹלֵ֣ךְ לִקְרָֽאתְךָ֔ וְאַרְבַּע־מֵא֥וֹת אִ֖ישׁ עִמּֽוֹ׃ וַיִּירָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב
מְאֹ֖ד וַיֵּ֣צֶר ל֑וֹ וַיַּ֜חַץ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֗וֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּ֧אן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָ֛ר וְהַגְּמַלִּ֖ים לִשְׁנֵ֥י מַחֲנֽוֹת׃
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and he is bringing 400 Generals as well.” Jacob was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps.
The question we must consider is, why is Jacob so frightened? Hasn’t he followed in the ways of G-d and his parents? At his parents’ behest Jacob journeyed away from home to the house of his sly uncle Laban, got married and had 12 children while working the land and accomplishing great wealth in the process. Jacob has been a model citizen, an A+ Jew, an all around honorable mensch. Why doesn’t he bank on the fact that G-d has his back and all will be ok?
The Torah teaches us not to feel entitled to anything. Everything is a gift: health, wealth, children, even the weather. Therefore, our father Jacob takes nothing for granted and prays, prepares a gift for Esau, and also divides the camp in case of war.
When we live without a sense of entitlement, our gratitude levels rise and so do our feelings of happiness and contentment. Remember, nobody signed up for their lives, in heaven G-d willed that you, me, and everyone reading this will be gifted life and the opportunity to grow, develop, and achieve in the allotted time we have been gifted.
Jacob teaches us this from his response above. As the progeny of Israel and the inheritors of his traditions, we can and in my opinion should follow in his footsteps and diminish the sense of entitlement from our playbook and replace it with a sense of wonder and appreciation.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence