It is common to take pride in possessions, but perhaps that is why the Jewish people started out with nothing, as slaves. For the essence of Judaism is not possession but action. We are taught to take pride not in what we have but who we are. The goods of this world move from person to person, but our attributes shape our essence. The great English essayist William Hazlitt says the following in his piece “On Personal Identity”:
“I have the love of power, but not of property. I should like to be able to outstrip a greyhound in speed; but I should be ashamed to take any merit to myself from possessing the fleetest greyhound in the world. I cannot transfer my personal identity from myself to what I merely call mine. The generality of mankind are contented to be estimated by what they possess, instead of what they are.”
Moses has nothing, but is everything. When the great Chofetz Chaim was visited by tourists and they saw the barrenness of his possessions, one asked: “Where are your things?” The Rabbi said in turn, “Where are yours?” The startled visitor answered, “But we are just passing through.”
“Yes,” said the sage with a smile, “me too.”
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).