Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch lived a very simple lifestyle. Despite his renown as a Torah scholar and teacher of thousands, his home was sparsely furnished. A visitor once commented on the lack of amenities in Rabbi Dov Ber's home. Rabbi Dov Ber responded by asking his guest, "Where is your furniture?" The man answered, "I am traveling; all my furniture is at home."
"Ah," said R. Dov Ber. "When you are on the road, you don't need furniture. I, too, am on a journey. This world is only a stopover on the way to my true destination."
R. Dov Ber's attitude toward physical possessions is reflected in the message that Jacob sent his brother Esau upon his return from Laban's home. He told him: "I have sojourned with Laban, and have acquired oxen and donkeys, sheep, servants and maidservants." Rashi points out that Jacob used the word "garti," sojourned, to describe his stay with Esau, to indicate that during the entire time that Jacob was in Laban's house, he considered himself a stranger. Jacob never considered Laban's home his true destination, nor did he consider acquiring wealth to be his real purpose in life. By maintaining a distance between himself and his surroundings, Jacob remained spiritually pure in Laban's home, and brought up a generation of fine and righteous children - the future twelve tribes of Israel.
Jacob's stay in Laban's house was a foreshadowing of the exile that his descendants would later undergo. Like Jacob, the Jewish people must live within the physical world and meet its challenges, while never forgetting their true objective. We are all given a slice of the world to elevate, through utilizing our possessions and abilities for a higher purpose. All our joint efforts in refining the world will culminate in the complete redemption with Moshiach.
Jacob sent his message to Esau, to indicate that he had already completed his task of elevating his area of the world, and for his part, he was ready for Moshiach. However, Esau was not yet ready and needed many more generations of refinement to reach a similar point. From Jacob, we learn not to allow ourselves to be affected by what those around us are doing; we must focus on doing our part in refining the world, and in doing so we can elevate all of humanity.
Not coincidentally, during this coming week we will also celebrate the New Year of Chassidism, on the 19th of Kislev. This day commemorates the liberation of the founder of Chabad Chassidism, R. Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, from Czarist imprisonment. Study of Chassidic teachings gives us the strength to combat the negativity of the world without allowing it to affect us. Through study of Chassidism, we will merit the immediate revelation of Moshiach.
(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 1, pp. 68-70)