Aparigraha and Judaism

I was asked on Jewish parallels to the Jain concept of Aparigraha. Any thoughts about Jewish texts that fit this concept? I found a few texts in a quick web search. Does anyone have any comments on these texts? or any difference in tonal qualities or applications between the Jewish and Jain concepts?
The Jewish texts are all in their unedited web version. I do have an attraction to this question as the opposite of all the current Orthodox interest in popular culture, conspicuous consumption, and wealth.

Aparigraha means taking what is truly necessary and no more. Aparigraha is the sanskrit word for non-possession or non-possessiveness; or non-covetousness, non-grasping, non-attachment, non- greed or trusteeship or limiting one’s personal desires and belongings or limit possessions to what is necessary or important. It is the antonym of the word parigraha, ‘compulsive hoarding,’ which means reaching out for something and claiming it for oneself.

Aparigraha is in the first place understood as an economic concept: one should not collect more material items or money than one needs, one has to set certain limits Aparigraha gives importance to abandoning emotional and mental attachment also. Mahatma Gandhi is famous for phrasing it as ‘there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed.’

Aparigraha means giving up your worldly possessions like wealth and property without attaching thoughts of what you have given up. The thoughts can comprise of sadness or happiness. By giving up I mean, one should not attach himself to the very thought of owning something. This does not only apply to materialistic things but also to the baggage that we carry within ourselves from the past.

“Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion” (4:1)

The tendency of the wealthy is to seek to increase their assets, as our Sages have commented: “A person who possesses 100 desires 200; one who possesses 200 desires 400.” One who is truly wealthy is one who does not become caught up by such desires, but rather maintains inner peace and calm. Nor will this approach force him to sacrifice wealth. On the contrary a person at peace with himself is far more able to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and thus achieve success in the world at large. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Histapkut defined as contentment through simplification, is a trait designed to help us grapple with the idea that “less is more.”
Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol says, “Who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. In giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really need.”

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches in Likutei Moharan (II,19), that, “The main goal of a Jew is to serve God with simplicity and without any sophistication.” It means that when it comes to serving our creator or working on improving ourselves we need to do so in a straightforward manner.

Simplicity and contentment have to go hand in hand. Figuring out what middah we need to work on or what spiritual or religious goal we need to set for ourselves doesn’t always have to be the loftiest of ideals or the most rigid level of observance. It is often we who are the ones that over-complicate things.

Bitachon and Histapkus. These are the principles for all good middos. They are the the antitheses of desiring and coveting, and the root of all [middos] is Bitachon. One who lacks Bitachon cannot retain Torah (Gra to Devarim 32:20). histapkus which is the opposite (of “do not covet”) is a foundation for the entire torah and it means to believe with emuna shlema (whole faith) to not worry about tomorrow. And he whose heart is good with bitachon even though he has transgressed severe sins, he is better than one who is missing in bitachon because such a person (who lacks bitachon) will come to jealousies and hatred and even though he studies torah and is involved in good deeds, all of this is only to make a name for himself.” (Even Sheleimah 3:1-2):

As we have written, all transgressions and sins result from coveting. Lo Sachmod encompasses all of the commandments and the entire Torah. Histapkus, the converse [of Lo Sachmod] is the foundation of the entire Torah. It consists of complete belief, of not worrying the worries of tomorrow… One whose heart has been enhanced by the trait of Bitachon — even if he transgresses severe transgressions — is superior to someone who lacks Bitachon, for [through lack of Bitachon] one comes to jealousy and hatred. Even if he is involved in Torah and Gemilus Chesed [his activities are meaningless] because he only does so to glorify his own name (Gra, Likkutim to Rabba bar Chana in an explanation of Sabbei d’Bei Athuna d”h Iysai Budia).

“It is well known that “histapkus”, being satisfied with just the basics, is one of the greatest attributes. The Vilna Gaon writes (in “Even Shlaimoh”) that this quality is even more necessary than bitachon (trust that Hashem provides) to acquire Torah. One aspect of histapkus is to train oneself to be satisfied with little and not run after “bigger and better” in food, in clothing etc. Nevertheless, at this level, one still feels that he is missing something. An even higher level is “Someach B’chelko” – To be happy with whatever one has — without being bothered because of what he does not possess; without even feeling he is missing anything. The highest level of all, however, is the attribute of “Yeish Li Kol”, feeling that he has everything; that there is nothing more [materially] that he could even want. This is what [Hashem meant when he said to Avrohom Ovinu] v’heyei tomim – be whole, perfect – lacking nothing.” (Mishnas Rav Aharon, Vol. 3 Ma’amar “Kol Mitzvoh Shekiblu Aleihem B’simchah” p. 123 in first ed.)

More texts from Deiah vDibbur that are related but not as relevant.

6 responses to “Aparigraha and Judaism

  1. My pet theory is that part of the ethic of conspicuous consumption in charedi Jewry came via the backdoor through chassidus. Living in a palace, and having lot’s of silver is, after all, ‘rebbish’.

  2. צדיק אוכל לשבע נפשו

  3. That phrase (Avos 4:1 above) characterized my Dad, in fact, it was the basis of my eulogy for Dad. Not that we were poor, but we certainly had a lot less than a lot of other people at Ramaz. But we always had enough.

    I don’t think Dad ever forgot the Depression, and all the hard work he & his parents had to do to get by.

    Having enough must include saving for old age, in our culture where grandparents don’t generally live with their children.

  4. Some people engage in meaningless consumption; most however enjoy luxuries, and look forward to more. Histapkus is against even ‘meaningful’ consumption . Consumption is also not necessarily conspicuous, compulsive, obsessive or addictive. But why then is histapkus opposed to any non-necessary consumption ?
    Does Histapkus mean that whenever we pass a certain threshold of wealth we should retire, sit in Boca, or are we then supposed to devote our lives to good deeds. If the latter it would seem we can do more good deeds by continuing to run after money. Warren Buffet makes a ton of money each year and promptly gives it to charity. Why would anyone want him strolling around Mizener Park? Let him strive and strive to make money until he dies.
    What if there is no striving, we just have oodles because of inheritance or a lottery ticket. Is the point then to give it away immediately and not enjoy any of it? Why? Because enjoying the benefits of money over and above necessities is a bad thing to do, because we should take no pleasure in our wealth. Does histapkus presuppose it is bad to enjoy the world, to enjoy life. Are we supposed to say as a matter of religious virtue “I’m happy eating my gruel in my tiny dwelling, who needs sunlight, beauty and material pleasures?” Histapkus seems to presuppose that perishus, asceticism is a virtue.
    In Torah circles this preaching against pursuing wealth is combined with the virtues of learning Torah all the time. I think histapkus works best with the claim that instead of enjoying life we should substitute learning of torah and saying tehilim and the like, (except for the joy in performing mitvot and attending seudos mitzvah.) And we all should do this from bar-mitzvah to grave, men and women. So one last time, we should spend our time here on earth with our face in a torah book, looking up only for the necessities of life. Call me bourgeois, but aren’t such claims excessive?

    (See the comments of Rav Shteinman on his visit to Gibraltar.

  5. This is a great article, thank you. I love comparisons of virtues between religions- being an off again on again observant Jew with a background in Hindu and Buddhist practice (including three years as a Buddhist monastic).
    I wanted to offer a clarification about aparigraha and it’s relation to the Jewish ideas of “sameach b’chelko” and “histapkut”. Aparigraha was, historically, a practice more then it was an attitude. It is mentioned in both Jain texts and in Patanjali’s Yogasutras (the core text of the classical meditative renunciant tradition which although originally composed outside of mainstream Indian religion was absorbed into the mainstream and is now considered one of the ur-texts of Hindu mysticisim).
    Aparigraha, or “non-hoarding”, “not taking”, refers to not possessing things. It was and is practiced mostly by sadhus (renunciants) and refers to literally owning next to nothing or in extreme cases nothing. Someone practicing aparigraha might own only a bowl or only a loin cloth or even go naked. For a Jewish analogue I can only think of kabbalistic gerushin practices where sages would go into exile as wanderers who, I assume, took very little with them and relied on the kindness of strangers and admirers. It seems closer to the idea of histapkut above, although a more radical version.
    There is another practice, both a Jain virtue and one of the “niyamas” (restraints) in the Yogasutras, known as santosha, which I think is more a accurate analogue for many of the ideas in the Jewish quotes above, and is closer to “sameach b’helko”. Santosha means “contentment” ( the word is etymologically related to “santi”, peacefulness). Santosha refers to being content with whatever you have, to being easily satisified, to being simple. Of course Santosha and Aparigraha are closely related concepts, but classically there is a difference between them- one is more of an attitude, one more of a practice. It is of course possible to create a non-renunciant analogue for monastic aparigraha, which could be practiced by people in the world. This would probably look a lot like the Jewish teachings given above.
    One more note: one should be aware that many Yogic and Hindu concepts are currently being re-imagined and re-configured for the West and modern westernized Asia.. This takes many forms, including ones which turn the religious or metaphysical into the psychological and/or soften or make more capitalist/consumer/hedonist friendly a tradition whose mysticism was traditionally fiercely ascetic in both attitude and practice. I am not judging this phenomenon as good or bad, simply warning that one has to be careful about information one hears about Yogic, Hindu, Jain or Buddhist practices, and look deeply into the matter.

  6. Warren Buffet makes a ton of money each year and promptly gives it to charity. Why would anyone want him strolling around Mizener Park?

    Which reminds me of the story my late father told me, of a rich man who decided he had enough, and started coming to beis medrash to learn. The rebbe/rav of the town saw him, strolled over, and shut the wealthy retiree’s gemara, saying poor Jews need their patron. I am not sure whether this was a legend or a story he remembered from his youth in Poland (it’s a kind of story that could have happened dozens of time all over again). But it confirms @ej’s suggestion. Tellingly, my father had told me that the rav in question was a chassid.

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