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B'resheet/Genesis 45:20 And your eyes: let her not grieve over your stuff for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.
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The shrill ringing of a bell, coupled with the wailing of a siren out on the landing, breaks your concentration on your work. What is going on now? Oh, it's the fire alarm - it's just a test, isn't it; we do this every month, right? You pause briefly to unplug your laptop and shut it down - after all, you can carry on working while you wait outside in the car park - but the fire warden for the office comes rushing through, grabs you by the arm and almost drags you out of the room and down the stairs before you can get the network cable out of its socket; the laptop gets left on the desk. "Come on," he shouts to everyone, as he drives them down the stairs, unfit as they all are from eating too many project lunches out with clients. Barely have you got outside the building and turned to ask just what the rush was all about when with a dull whumph! the middle floors of the building collapse and flames shoot out of the broken windows. A gas leak in the boiler room, a dodgy light switch in the janitor's room next door that sparked as he went in to investigate the smell of gas and the building caught fire. If you'd waited those extra couple of minutes for the laptop to close the network and hibernate, you'd still have been on the middle floor when it collapsed. BaruchHaShem for fire wardens!
Pharaoh is giving instructions to Yosef; this is the message he is to send to his father, sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces, via his brothers who are being sent to fetch the whole family down to Egypt to escape the famine in most of the (then) known world. "Come down at once," Pharaoh commands. "Don't stop to pick up your own bits and pieces; you can have anything you need down here; just come at once!" Nahum Sarna agrees, citing the JPS translation: "'Never mind your belongings' - Do not begrudge having to leave behind personal possessions that will cause you inconvenience if you bring them along; do not allow such consideration to delay you."
The word is ultimately derived from the root - to be completed, finished or ended - via the noun . This has a wide range of meanings: vessel, utensil, boat, skiff, implement, tool, weapons, arms, equipment, clothing and dress! It gives rise to the term "armour bearer": "David came to Saul and attended him, and Saul loved him greatly; and he became his armour bearer" (1 Samuel 16:21, ESV), but is also used for cooking utensils, clothing and other miscellaneous articles or personal possessions. In less scholarly circles, a good catch-all general translation might be 'stuff', so here "your stuff". What is the value of stuff? Not much according to Pharaoh, as theSforno comments, "'Also regard not your stuff' - Do not delay on that account, because the ultimate loss would be greater in the value of the cattle sacrificed by your delay". As the cattle were dying for lack of food, Pharoah tells Ya'akov's family that the value of their personal possessions would be less than the value of the cattle who died as a result of delaying.
Commenting on the verb , which Davidson parses from the root , to pity or grieve for, Hirsch suggests that "the holem points primarily to a root , related to in rabbinic Hebrew, to have consideration for or to have scruples about something." doesn't actually exist in biblical Hebrew, soHirsch's comment is slightly anachronistic, but does confirm the attitude Pharaoh is suggesting: that the family's personal possessions are to be considered as trifles and nothing to stand in they way of an immediate departure for Egypt.
Health and safety rules require that when a fire alarm is sounded, everyone has to leave the building, without taking anything with them that might delay their escape. When the coastguard or emergency services evacuate people from their homes - because of flooding, volcano or earthquake activity, a forest fire, subsidence or even a terrorist threat, you have to leave right now taking nothing but the clothes you stand up in or only the few things they allow. More people have found themselves in this position in recent years due to the cycles in climate patterns, natural disasters or industrial accidents. Many have lost cherished possessions - family photographs and heirlooms, school memorabilia, children's toys, books, clothing, technology and personal effects. While most relate the experience as harrowing and retain lasting distress over the loss, a few refer to the incident as cleansing and cathartic. Almost all comment that the event has concentrated their minds powerfully over the acquisition and holding of stuff.
How do we value the material possessions in our lives? Some things seem to be essential: somewhere to sit, eat and sleep, and the means of cooking and preparing food; basic clothing and sanitation. Other things are less so. Yet there is wide disparity between the developed and developing worlds over what is essential and what is not. A friend who has been on mission work in some rural villages in Ghana recently, commented on the contradictory nature of village life there: no constant electricity or water supply, extremely basic living accommodation, inadequate healthcare, severely restricted diet and little or no freely disposable income, yet every other person under the age of thirty seems to have a smart-phone. Strange priorities indeed, but perhaps reflecting the idea that you stand some chance of keeping what is in your pocket, even if everything else gets swept away.
Rav Sha'ul explains how the kingdom of G-d works: "Now true religion does bring great riches, but only to those who are content with what they have. For we have brought nothing into the world; and we can take nothing out of it; so if we have food and clothing, we will be satisfied with these" (1 Timothy 6:6-8, CJB). If we know G-d, we have access to all the riches of heaven, for G-d says, "Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10, ESV). But we can only see the riches that He gives us if we are content to wait on Him and remain focused on Him rather than on the riches. Job's focus is clearly on G-d; after receiving in turn news of the loss of all his wealth in livestock and the death of all his children, he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The L-RD gave and the L-RD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the L-RD" (Job 1:21, NASB). Job expresses a state of peace or contentment with what the L-rd gives him; be that good or not so good, it is what G-d has given. This is not simply dull phlegmatic acceptance; Job arose, tore his cloak, shaved his head, then fell to the ground and worshiped G-d. This is a fully active participation while resting in G-d and proclaiming His sovereignty in all of Job's affairs. Notice also that Job does not make, nor does he suggest that G-d has made, any value judgements over having possessions or wealth. Job had them before this time of trial and he was to receive even more by the end of the story. It isn't what you have but what you do with it and your attitude towards it.
Yeshua spoke too about material possessions: "Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21, CJB). Wealth is a good thing provided it is invested safely in the kingdom of heaven. There it will return a yield many times exceeding that available through the best stock market or managed investment plans. The kingdom of heaven is immune to the interference of hedge funds, the futures market or even a nuclear-armed Iran! It does, on the other hand, require a positive investment strategy; you have to make deliberate and explicit contributions - virtual funds and post-dated cheques cannot be accepted. Pharaoh urged Ya'akov's family in Canaan to just drop everything and come down to Egypt, for the best of the land would be available to them as the family of Yosef. Yeshua too urges us to commit wholeheartedly to the kingdom of heaven without delay, for the riches of the kingdom are available for us. When we release our "stuff" - be that our money, family, job, living or career (actually, all of the above) - into His hands, then we find true peace and contentment.
Further Study: Ecclesiastes 5:13-16; Proverbs 30:7-9; Luke 12:12-21
Application: Have you trusted in your own possessions, guarding them carefully against a rainy day, or have you invested in the kingdom of heaven and trusted Yeshua with everything that you have?
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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