Knowing the True Owner
Yael Eckstein | November 29, 2023
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. — Genesis 32:13-15
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.
I once heard a story about a man who learned a valuable lesson about sharing while waiting in an airport. The man had checked his bags, bought a snack and a magazine, and sat down. As he opened his magazine and reached for a cookie, he was surprised to find another hand in the bag. The woman sitting next to him was eating his food!
The man was too polite to say anything and so he kept quiet even though the woman continued to help herself to his snack. When there was just one cookie left, instead of leaving it for him, she broke it in half, smiled, and kept half for herself. The man was appalled at the woman’s rude behavior.
Just then, the man’s flight was called. As he prepared to board the plane, he opened up his bag to get his boarding pass—and found his bag of cookies, unopened and untouched. He had been eating the woman’s cookies all along, while she had shared kindly!
Knowing the True Owner
There are many lessons to learn from this story. One of them is that knowing who the true owner is makes all the difference when it comes to sharing.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Jacob sent gifts of cattle to his brother Esau in hopes of appeasing him so that Esau would no longer seek revenge. According to the Jewish sages, the number of animals that Jacob ended up giving to Esau was exactly ten percent of all that he had. This was no accident—in fact, those animals did not really belong to Jacob anyway.
When Jacob left his father’s home, he pledged to give ten percent of his earnings to God (Genesis 28:22). However, Jacob had not followed through. Now, instead of giving away his earnings to God for helping others, Jacob ended up losing his property to Esau—a far less attractive cause!
We all know that we should be charitable and share our earnings with others. But that’s not always so easy to do. The typical thinking goes, “It’s our money, after all. We should use it to help ourselves.” But God reminds us otherwise: “The silver is mine and the gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8). Nothing that we have actually belongs to us; rather everything belongs to God, Who gives to us graciously and expects us share with others.
Indeed, knowing who the true owner is makes all the difference!