Are You Ready for the Biggest Yom Tov in the MetaVerse?
The Rebbe, Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa put down his cup one motzei shabbos and turned to his chassidim with worried eyes. “I see a time just before Moshiach will come that Jews will not be able to support themselves with a regular Parnassah. They will need to find work on the side to support their needs. I'm shivering at the thought of it...”
To the Chassidim of that generation, this vision most likely conjured images of extreme poverty and hardship. But perhaps the Rebbe was glimpsing at us – a generation of extreme consumerism and the side hustles needed to support it.
Our generation has witnessed the emergence of a new class of American holidays: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and even more recently, Prime Day. These Yamim Tovim are celebrated across the country with ever increasing participation and excitement.
And along with the celebrations and attention to the deals, sales and ads, the Yetzer Hara of frivolous spending is growing. We are working harder than ever before to pay for things that add less and less value and utility to our lives.
All of this is not resultant from our poverty. On the contrary. We live in a generation and community that overwhelmingly has far more than our ancestors. We enjoy safety, security, access to health care, and political leveraging that Jews could only have dreamed of a century ago.
And yet, we want more. Everywhere we look someone is trying to sell us something; training us to entertain thoughts of “hmmm, that new “X” looks nice.” Algorithms are constantly evolving to hack our screen habits and exploit our emotions. So we search, click and buy.
Perhaps we should take a moment to decry the wasteful hedonism of our capitalist, consumer society. Perhaps you have read books and blogs that do just that. Perhaps you have attending shiurim and watched videos that explain how our habits are creating mountains of consumer debt and destroying the planet. Perhaps you have changed your life as a result.
But if we're honest, we should concede that the guilt trips will not help. Neither you, nor me will stop buying unnecessary things because we were somehow convinced not to. Overweight people do not stop eating cake because someone explained the effect of cake on waistlines. Logical arguments only help with logical problem.
The reality is that we buy things for reasons beyond logic – most often emotional. Sure, there is always some rationalization to justify it to ourselves (or our spouses). But has an Amazon box has ever arrived at your door only to have you wonder what it was that you ordered?
Our rationalizations need only be sustained for a few moments until the “buy now” button is pressed. Online businesses are working tirelessly to shorten that time. Every fraction of a second means fewer moments for us to think between wanting and ordering.
The constant barrage of advertising is difficult to suppress. There is almost nowhere online or offline that we are not subjected to an endless parade of things to purchase. And those who make a living by selling goods and services are pressured into using – and paying for – the same emotionally exploitative mechanisms.
It all seems unrelenting and unconquerable. But understating that our drive to purchase is often all together irrational, provides us with an unlikely opening to combat the urges to spend.
It begins by acknowledging that all of our drives are ultimately an expression of a desire that Hashem wants us to have. Much like the drives for food and intimacy which are there to ensure our survival, the desire for more stuff must have deep roots in the world of Keshusha.
The Aish Kodesh explains (דרך המלך וישלח) that we desire that which we don't have. We feel a lack, an absence, an emptiness, and we wish to fill it. In a profound sense, our desires are an invitation to perceive that which is lacking in our lives and in the world.
The only question is: How will we fill in the gaps?
Rather than admonishing ourselves for being so weak willed, we should recognize that our generation has desires that no one has ever contented with in history. While we have a far greater appetite for “more”, it is not our weakness that makes us feel empty, it is our unfulfilled capacity.
Of course, the desire for more that is screaming out from the depths of our souls can never be satisfied with another iPhone, necklace or car. There is never a final, ultimate purchase after which we say “That's all I need. No need for more stuff now.”
Is there an alternative? Is there anyway to feel the lack and not dull it with meaningless consumerism? The Aish Kodesh continues: We begin by acknowledging that the reason I feel a lack is because Hashem wants me to know that I have room for more.
A deeper dive into our motivations begins to shed light on what the lack in our lives might be at that moment. Perhaps this purchase is motivated by a need for acceptance, or identification with a particular person or group? Perhaps what I am really missing are close friends? Do I want this gadget for its supposed ability to save me time? Perhaps I'm really trying to have better control over my schedule? Am I spending hours “researching” a product because I need the best, or is this simply procrastination and avoidance?
Contemplating the source of our needs is the first step to acknowledging that the holes in our lives cannot be filled by the contents of brown cardboard boxes.
Having the presence of mind to consider why we are drawn to a product, ad or sale will transform Black Friday into an exercise in Avodas Hashem. In what way is Hashem missing from my life that make me want to fill this gap with a thing?
With enough steady training, not only will our bank accounts and credit cards be better off, but we might begin to see the world through the eyes of Yaakov Avinu.
Yaakov is preparing himself for an epic encounter with his brother Esav; and the Torah tells us that he prepares in three ways: he prays, he readies for battle and he sends a gift. But Esav declines this offering, famously stating יש לי רב – I have so much. Yaakov responds by saying take it anyways – יש לי כל. I have everything.
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that that יש לי כל is not just an expression of wealth, but perspective. Yaakov is telling his brother that regardless of what you might take from me, I will always have everything I need. I simply do not fill my needs with stuff.
As our world races further and further into having, buying and consuming more, we should pause. What do we have? What do we need? Where are the holes in my life and how can fill them with meaning?
Hashem should bless with the Bracha of כל – that we should always have more than enough to give away. When we see the ads and feel the urges, that we learn to see His hand inviting us to become greater than we ever imagined.