Contentment: A Lost Accounting Principle?

Fires are restless. A fire consumes everything, whether parched grass or precious homes. Sparks become flames and quickly grow into a massive inferno.

Death is a lot like fire (Proverbs 30:15-16). Both are veracious. The graveyard is never full; death will not be satisfied even after it grabs you.

Something else is always restless. “Like death and destruction, a person's eyes are never satisfied” (27:20). In this Proverb, eyes are a metaphor for a coveting heart. Lusts and desires are never full. They are as insatiable as fire, destructive as death.

Why do we imitate fire? Why do we mimic death? Why are our lives filled with a burning for more without learning to say enough? We lose every time.

Gains and Losses

In Joshua 7, Achan craves spoils of war that were not his to take. He snatches some silver, gold, and a coat made by a foreign designer. “I saw the plunder...I coveted them and took them” (v21). As a result Achan dies and his entire family is destroyed. He did not get the booty and he lost even more.

A person who covets not only fails to gain what is desired, but also loses what is already possessed! This is further revealed in a poem from the Passover Haggadah. It partially states:

The poem describes the stages of Israel's freedom. With each line there is a response. Dayenu means “it is enough.” The poem teaches if G-d did A and B, but not C or D, we should still be satisfied.

What if at some stage the poet refused to say dayenu? For instance, “You split the sea but you wouldn't make the seabed dry for us...wet feet are not enough! I can't get no satisfaction!” By focusing on a perceived lack our poet would get stuck at that point. One who says “not enough” from a covetous heart rejects the grace and mercy received for that moment. Coveting jeopardizes mercy. Lust stymies freedom.

When we hold tenaciously to our own desires we lose what is gained and forfeit future earnings. This principle must baffle accountants.

The Antidote

How do we fight the consuming fire of desire? The answer is contentment.

Rav Shaul (Paul) made an amazing comment about contentment. Contentment with godliness is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6-9). In other words, when I am content with G-d's strength I do not lose – I gain!

Coveting is the behavior of those who reject the Most High and his strength by wanting something else. It is an attitude of indifference towards G-d.

Contentment, on the other hand, is the attitude of those who trust G-d. “G-d is my portion... my borders are in pleasant places. I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:5f). This teaches that a person who understands G-d's presence in his/her life will be increasingly satisfied. Dependence on the Lord is the food of contentment.

Pirkei Avot 4:1 asks, “Who is rich? He who delights in his portion.” Rav Shaul puts it this way in Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content.” Learning to say dayenu (enough) was his life's secret. May we learn it together.

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