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Parshas Terumah - More is Sometimes Less     5 Adar I 5784

02/15/2024 03:53:13 PM

Feb15

I am always looking to get the most out of life, literally squeezing every precious drop – right down even to filling my car with gas. For example, when the price of gas is good, I try to fill my car up as much as possible. Even though the newer pumps have an automatic shut-off, I still tip the nozzle to get out the last few drops. A second example is the garbage. I try to stuff the garbage bag with just a few more things, only to typically watch as the overstuffed bag rips wide open. My reason for stuffing just a little more into the bag is, of course, to  spare me from using another bag. By trying to add more to the already stuffed bag to save a bag, overstuffed bag rips wide open. My reason for stuffing just a little more into the bag is, of course, to  spare me from using another bag. By trying to add more to the already stuffed bag to save a bag, I end up needing to use another bag in addition to the next bag anyway.

A different scenario takes me to the classroom. I always joked proclaiming that the only reason I became a teacher was to torture students the way I was tortured. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would not do something that several teachers did back when I was a student: to squeeze in just one or two more points after the bell rang. Even though all teachers accept the well-known ism that as soon as the bell rings, students’ brains instantaneously shut down, we still try to get just a little more information thrown towards them as they hustle to leave the classroom. The teacher, by trying to push forward an additional drop of information, actually loses out a bit at the end.

Even in the realm of kosher, there are laws that invalidate a cow from being kosher, therefore declaring it a treifa. The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah teaches that if an organ is missing, the animal is obviously treif. But what about if the animal had a genetic defect and had two of something instead of one. We might think along with the adage: “two heads are better than one,” but in Halacha the extra ‘one’ is considered as if the animal does not have any. "יתר נטול דמי"  - something extra is as if it had been taken away, leaving the animal to be considered without that organ or limb at all. Here again, adding something is not good; in actuality, it makes the item worse.

 Sometimes ‘the more the merrier’ isn’t so merry. Many studies have been conducted regarding the concept of whether more or less is beneficial or possibly harmful for the average person. This ‘truism’ has been extensively studied by behavioral psychologists. The following was taken from a Harvard study conducted in 2000 by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper:

On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.

Other studies have confirmed this result that more choice is not always better. As the variety of snacks, soft drinks, and beers offered at convenience stores increases, for instance, sales volume and customer satisfaction decrease. Moreover, as the number of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones.

 

Drs. Iyengar and Lepper found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as employment opportunities. These results challenge what we think we know about human nature and the determinants of well-being. Both psychologists and businesses have operated on the assumption that the relationship between choice and well-being is straightforward: The more choices people have, the better off they are. In psychology, the benefits of choice have been tied to autonomy and control. In business, the benefits of choice have been typically tied to the benefits of free markets. Added options make no one worse off, and they are bound to make someone better off. The proper Hashkafa - Jewish philosophical outlook - doesn’t stem from my, or anyone’s, day-to-day living that ‘more is better’. Nor does it come from any academic or social study. Rather it is based upon the understanding that every principle has its roots in the foundation of the Torah, as we see here.  

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Teruma speaks about building the furniture in the Mishkan. The first item to be built was the Aron, the Ark of the Covenant. The Torah states in Shmos 25:10 "ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו ואמה וחצי רחבו ואמה וחצי קמתו"  Make an ark of acacia wood, 21/2 cubits long, 11/2 cubits wide, and 11/2 cubits high”. The Gemara Sanhedrin 29a states: “it is from this verse that we learn of the principle שכל המוסיף גורע  whoever adds takes away. The Vilna Gaon explains this idea from the letter ‘vav’ in the passuk. Since it says in the verse 21/2 cubits long, it means two amos plus another one half of an amah. But if we were to take away the ‘vav’ from the word וחצי , then it would be read as אמתים חצי ארכו  two amos, which is half of the length. This means the entire length would be four amos if verse did not have the letter ‘vav’. It turns out, the fact that we ADD the letter ‘vav’, the length is shorter - only two and one half amos and not four. So, by adding the letter ‘vav’ it reduces the measure of the length of the ark.

I know and I see the life of good and plenty (not the candy) and know that the reality is the more we think we have or want will diminish, will decrease all of what we do have. I once wrote regarding the giving of gifts to our children on Chanukah: ”The more we give our children the less they will have.” Let us take stock of our lives and possessions, be happy with what we have so that we can say, “the less I want, the more I will have! 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784