Why on earth did Yaakov Avinu go back for the cheap pottery?
Yes, we know the classic explanation, that tzaddikim value their possessions because of their holy sense of gratitude & appreciation.
How does that work?
To Whom Do Your Belongings Belong?
He viewed them as belonging to Hashem.
And just like most of us tend to be more careful with the money or possessions of others (like how you keep a borrowed book on a high shelf and refuse to eat over it, yet your own books can be found on the kitchen table when you're not eating over the book), Yaakov cared for his possessions because he saw them as Hashem's possessions.
Likewise, Rav Miller makes an excellent point about how we can improve our behavior by viewing our money as belonging to Hashem.
For example, even though you can produce a beautiful wedding for $20,000 (BTW, my Israeli wedding over 20 years ago was $2000, but I wish we'd added another $1000 for a larger hall; it would've been worth it), some people like to splurge on a $50,000 wedding.
But if you look at money as belonging to Hashem, you tend to behave more responsibly.
Happy Story #1
I once knew a wealthy frum family who could easily afford eye-popping luxury weddings, but intentionally made mainstream weddings because they wanted people who couldn't afford extravagance to feel comfortable with making a normal wedding.
In this way, they contributed restraint against the rising wave of upstaging events.
Only a spiritual person, a person who really feels for their fellows, could think that way.
Another time, I met a young woman embittered by her father's attitude toward spending when it came time for her to marry.
He splurged on a fancy wedding to impress his friends, leaving very little to start his daughter on her married life.
"I didn't even WANT such a fancy wedding!" she fumed. "I, the kallah, did NOT feel I needed all that extravagance to make me happy! He only did it for himself!"
So she found herself with a rapidly growing family & living in an apartment with a claustrophobic living room, 2 tiny bedrooms, and a small porch—plus cheap furniture & appliances.
She lived every day with the frustration of not having the space or quality she needed, her resentment renewed daily because every inconvenience & discomfort reminded her of how she could have a more manageable domestic life, but her father did not care enough about her to give her that (even though he could have afforded it had he made her a normal wedding rather than an impressive one).
Happy Story #2
Rebbetzin Heller (I think from Chanoch Teller?) tells of a woman who worked for a chessed organization and needed to get an ill man on a flight.
This woman wore an expensive necklace made of real pearls—obviously she valued it, else she wouldn't have spent so much money on it & worn it.
The flight agent at the desk refused to allow the ill man on this important flight until the chessed-woman removed the necklace and deftly slid it over to the agent.
Without missing a beat, the agent approved the man for the flight: Mission accomplished.
This woman clearly lived for Hashem. Ultimately, she knew how to use her possessions in Hashem's service.
On page 8, Rav Miller offers the story of his friend who personally met the Chafetz Chaim. The anecdote displays both the humility & the wisdom of the Chafetz Chaim.
On pages 9-10, Rav Miller discusses the balance between spending to please your wife, to do chessed with her, & going overboard.
How Do You Spend Your Time? Literally, How Do You SPEND It?
If a possession costs you 4 weeks of work, is it worth it?
A roomy high-quality washing machine for a family with several children is worth it.
But a light fixture? A wall painting? An area rug? A decorative statue?
To foster a sense of the importance of time, let's look at what Rav Miller says on pages 12-13:
Suppose a man was born into this world for only a few seconds and in that short amount of time he opens his eyes and he says, [Mah rabu ma'asecha, Hashem!]—How great are Your deeds, Hashem!” and then he dies.
That man lived for a very great purpose!
“Yeish koneh olamo b’shaah achas” — A man can acquire everything in one moment of life (Avodah Zarah 17a).
Because what is life? Life is an opportunity to do things, to accomplish!
Why It's So Important to Embrace Your Own Baby Steps
In the modern society of grand gestures, masses of likes & followers, stories of amazing accomplishments, it's hard to give baby steps the appreciation they deserve.
But baby steps are the key to success!
Baby steps are 1 of THE MOST IMPORTANT actions you could ever carry out!
Here's Rav Miller on how the Kelm yeshivah proactively trained themselves to value baby steps (page 14):
You know, in the Kelmer Yeshiva when they went home at night, it was after a long day of learning.
They went home late at night to their stanzas, the places where they stayed at night.
And then they came back again for five minutes!
Everyone returned to the yeshiva; they made a special trip from home back to the beis medrash to learn five minutes.
Five minutes of learning and then they went home again.
What was that all about? A game? A charade?
Oh no, it was a chinuch!
It was a training of the mind; it was to teach them that five minutes of learning is worth coming to yeshiva.
If you can learn five minutes, three minutes, one minute, it’s already a very important achievement.
On pages 14-15, Rav Miller doles out delicious advice on how to advance in learning (or any other kind of spiritual progress)...1 minute at a time.
How often do we hear Rav Miller emphasize the great benefit of a minute?
- A minute of talking to Hashem each day.
- A minute of thinking about Hashem while walking from one utility pole to the other.
- A minute of thinking about Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) while standing on a crowded bus & grasping a strap or pole.
Minutes build up over time.
You can experience astounding self-improvement over time, just through baby steps and itsy-bitsy bites.
To help you actualize this all-important idea, please check out the Practical Tip on page 17.
May we all merit to succeed in making our minutes count.