My wife, Shira, shops for the smallest packages of food in order to conserve space in our three-shelf pantry. When I find one of those ten-ounce boxes of Cheerios, I cringe and dream of buying supersize at Costco. I prefer a plethora of cereal options to mix and match my breakfast. Shira retaliates by purchasing mini-jars of peanut butter. My closet-full of clothes is another issue of contention. I have more than she does and she calls me a pack rat. I like having choices, and as long as they still fit, I see no reason to dispose of my favorites. So, too, it is with my CD collection, the gear in my music studio, and my extensive library.
Am I too attached to material things? Yes! But I prefer to give my obsession another name: shefa.
Shefa (abundance) is one of my favorite Hebrew words. On the basic level, it means having plenty of money in the bank account. Shefa is a full tank of gas, robust health, a beloved job, satisfying hobbies, ample time for family and friends. Having an array of cereal and T-shirt choices serves as my subconscious method of living in the world of shefa, for at least some of my day. We add shefa to our lives by celebrating Shabbos and holidays like royalty, entertaining guests in grand style, holding court as the monarchs of Livonia Avenue.
I resonate with living large. I love my king-size bed. I love skiing big mountains, eating overstuffed burritos and sitting on an enormous Relax-the-Back chair at a 64-input mixing console in my recording studio. I love epic movies on big screens and multi-day music festivals. Big things give me big joy. I recognize that conspicuous consumption flies in the face of political correctness. This is a time when conscientious Americans reduce carbon footprints by bringing canvas bags to the supermarket, driving hybrids, and recycling. We must not abandon these astute practices; I am simply suggesting that we distinguish between minimizing our consumption and maximizing our joy.
Some believe the drive to accumulate material wealth is at odds with Judaism or a liberal agenda. In fact, all of our patriarchs and matriarchs were loaded! Their illustrious sagas are enshrined in our national consciousness to demonstrate that financial abundance isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged. Capitalism is great as long as we use our capital to heal the world and strive to be a mentch. Great wealth brings great responsibility.
The popular new-age film The Secret echoes a truth that Jews have espoused for time immemorial: Words have tremendous impact. We bring abundance into being by harnessing this under-appreciated source of power. The incantation “abracadabra” comes from the Aramaic “I will create as I have spoken.” Prayer is simply speaking our deepest desires into being. Be careful not to radiate what you don’t want. Use words that express what you do want! Cry out to the Almighty, “Help me gain financial freedom,” instead of exclaiming, “I’m sick of being broke.” G-d is continuously creating the world in alignment with humanity’s deepest desires. Envision your success. Express yourself. We are G-d’s partners in creating the world we want: a world of peace and harmony, a world of unfettered joy, loving relationships, and monetary success. Ask for your life to be filled with shefa.
Giving tz’dakah (charity) is the ultimate shefa “magnet.” If we respond to those in need with our hard-earned cash, clearly G-d can trust us with abundance. Tz’dakah is the quintessential key to the gate of righteousness. The root of tz’dakah is tzedek, justice. We don’t give our mandated ten percent because we feel guilty or sorry for someone. We give because it’s the right thing to do. I differentiate between macro and micro tz’dakah. The macro level is supporting the Jewish Federation, Israel, disaster relief, and the homeless. In our bustling neighborhood, we support local day schools and several synagogues. The micro level involves tz’dakah in person, always having cash on hand to dispense on the streets, in the minyan (synagogue services) or to aging veterans at freeway exits. Micro-tz’dakah involves the transfer of cash and love in the form of consideration and words of comfort. Holy generosity demonstrates we are aware of G-d’s presence, thankful for our gifts, and excited to share the bounty. G-d aches to give us more, but we must avoid arrogance and selfishness.
In order to attract shefa, we must fashion ourselves into vessels primed for ever-increasing blessing. A 16-year-old praying for a red Ferrari is most likely not ready for such a vehicle. The answer to his prayer, regardless of how earnestly he asks, is going to be no. Over our lifetimes, G-d gives us challenges to determine how much shefa we can sustain. Too much shefa can destroy us. We don’t dare sip water from a fire hose. The tests we get on a daily basis build us into people who can deal with ever-greater gifts.
Building vessels for shefa is not only a spiritual call to action. Maimonides, the epic scholar and physician, insists we are fully responsible for maintaining our health so we are able to carry out G-d’s will. Once, on a chairlift at Vail, an orthopedic surgeon next to me asked what I do to stay in shape. I mentioned surfing, biking, and skiing. He responded, “No, that’s what you do to your body! What do you do for your body?” The right answer would have been yoga, walking, stretching and cardio machines. I took his advice to heart. I’ve been a yogi for over a decade and find it crucial for remaining sufficiently limber to withstand life’s shocks and spills. Staying in shape enables the flow of shefa and, by extension, benefits our family, our community, and the Jewish People.
Kabbalah describes a higher meaning of shefa: Our G-d is essentially good and created the universe to extend goodness in every direction. Shefa refers to the flow of G-d’s beneficence in all forms. Imagine a brilliant beam emanating from a spotlight toward a performer on stage. This is like the divine light highlighting all creation. Spotlight operators have a choice of filters to dim the light down to near darkness. The Zohar emphasizes that we are in control of these filters; we can open or close our personal apertures based on our actions and attitudes.
In troubled times, we tend to self-limit the flow of G-d’s light in our lives. We allow economic woes to diminish our outlook. We feel beaten down at work, have less time to do the things we enjoy, feel hopeless trying to pay stacks of bills with shrinking salaries, and struggle with health issues. Life can be scary. Living in fear takes us out of the flow of shefa. The million-dollar question: How can we pursue our dreams full throttle, without trepidation, attracting blessings in our income, health, and happiness? Learning to ski requires pointing one’s skis downhill and letting them rip! Maximizing shefa means taking calculated risks, bravely committing to a particular outcome. Courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear; it means, “I’m afraid but I’m committed.” Tony Robbins says, “Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited of what could go right.”
Shira loves me so much. A few months after the cereal argument, she recognized that having variety is an important ingredient in my personal quest for shefa. Now, she not only provides it lovingly, she actively shops for brands I like. Our relationship with our Creator is much like a marriage: Success is based on expressing heartfelt gratitude, being sensitive to what makes the relationship flow, and rectifying what doesn’t. G-d is continuously showering us with shefa. Only we can choose whether to acknowledge it. Shefa surrounds us in the form of every breath we take, our miraculous bodily functions, intelligence, loving relationships, self-awareness, and inner peace. And, of course, in plenty of cereal in the cupboard, landing a great gig or the Holy Grail: a perfect parking spot. Living a life of shefa is the Jewish “secret” one we can share with all humanity.
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer, and author in Los Angeles. Visit him online at www.samglaser.com. Join Sam for a weekly uplifting hour of study every Wednesday night (7:00 p.m. PST, Zoom Meeting ID: 71646005392) for learners of all ages and levels of knowledge.