28:20 And Yaacov vowed a vow, saying…and He will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear.
I was told by my Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Halberstam ZT”L, that when a Jew asks Hashem for that which he needs, he can ask for whatever he wants, for Hashem has a limitless ability to give you everything and more. Yet when Yaakov Avinu asks Hashem for sustenance, he merely asks for “bread to eat and clothing to wear” – the absolute bare minimum. Didn’t Yaakov Avinu know that he could ask for more?!
The following is a story taken from the book “The Heavenly City”:
There were two righteous Jews of Jerusalem who learned together many hours of the day. One day, the senior partner of the two suddenly began stating one quote of Chazal after another, all of which were how one should not be indulgent. The younger partner at first ignored these overtures, but when his partner persisted, he asked him “What are you alluding to with these statements?”
He answered as follows: “I was in your house on Rosh Chodesh, and I saw a silk tablecloth on the table. SILK! You know it starts with a tablecloth, then it leads to a new table, then to another thing…It seems that you are embarking on a pursuit of luxuries.”
The young partner explained as follows: “30 years ago when I lived outside of Eretz Yisrael, I did a chesed of learning with an infirmed man. After he recuperated, he wanted to pay me, and I refused to accept any kind of renumeration. A month and a half ago, I received a package from my hometown with this tablecloth inside. It came with a note as follows: ‘Our dear father, who just passed away, left in his will a request of us that we send you this tablecloth as a sign of appreciation for the chesed that you did with him 30 years ago.’ After reading the letter, I showed it to my wife, and she said “That is very nice, but in a home of people in Jerusalem, luxuries are not in place. We must return the tablecloth.” To this I countered “Though I agree with your sentiments, to return the tablecloth would be an insult to the bereaved family. I don’t see that we have a choice but to accept the gift.”
The senior partner, after hearing the explanation, was indeed perplexed regarding the proper behavior in this situation. They decided to go to Rav Shmuel Salant, the Rav of Jerusalem, to get a final ruling from him. Rav Shmuel Salant, after much thought, came up with the following solution: He agreed that both sides were correct, and therefore suggested to execute the wishes of both sides: The tablecloth would be put on the table, as per the wishes of the bereaved family. But so that the junior partner should not benefit from this extravagance, a plain tablecloth should be put on top of it. This way, he would not be enjoying the lavish gift, yet he would still be honoring the wishes of the bereaved family.
Yes, indeed, Hashem has the power to give us everything, even more than we can imagine. However, we are taught that indulgence in the “things” of this world shackle us and prohibit us from being able to rise above the mundane. We must decide if it will actually help us or hinder us in fulfilling our purpose in this world. Yaakov Avinu was the trailblazer in this area, teaching us that we should only ask for what we need. (It goes without saying that not everyone’s needs are the same.)