There are very few things in this world that so profoundly affect the way we feel and act, as does money. There is a Yiddish saying, "Ven es kumpt tzu gelt, iz an andera velt" - When it comes to money, it's another world. I believe this other world is a deeper world, a world that represents our true selves, not often or easily revealed. Many people who appear kind and friendly tighten up and become selfish when approached for a loan or for a donation to charity. Other people, both those who are wealthy and those who are clearly struggling to make ends meet, are nonetheless extremely generous when it comes to giving to others. In both cases, money reveals hidden dimensions. The Talmud teaches that money is one of the few things that truly reveal the inner nature of a person. Chassidus teaches that our money, just like our physical attributes, is one of our spiritual genetic markers, connected to the very root of our souls.
Perhaps this is why the first question we often ask upon meeting someone is, 'What do you do?' as if a livelihood can sum up the respondents' identity. By contrast, one of the most personal questions one can ask is, 'how much money do you make?' Personal because the question relates to the essence of each individual. Other than money, there is no other quantifiable indicator that defines who we are.
At the same time, however, there are few dimensions of our lives more superficial than our relationship to money. There are people who portray themselves as wealthy, even though they are poor, and others who insist on appearing impoverished, despite their riches. We tend to respect the advice of a rich person more than that of the wise man. Yet, when the 'wise' person of means loses his or her money, we may totally disregard the advice. These are the questions at the heart of this edition of Pardes. What is it about money, or the lack of it that so profoundly affects our lives? Is it money that defines the person, or is it how each person uses money? Does money limit or liberate? Should we strive for wealth, or is a person who has less more likely to be holy? Who is more likely to grow spiritually, the wealthy or the impoverished? Is wealth an attribute worthy of our respect?
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
How would you respond?
1 Over the years, you and your spouse have worked hard, lived modestly and brought your children up to believe in G-d and Torah values. Unbeknownst to your children, or to anyone else in your community, your hard work and some fortunate investments have left you with a significantly sizeable portfolio of assets. As you begin the sensitive and perplexing exercise of estate planning, you consider whether to leave this eight figure (after taxes) estate to your children, or would your children be better served with inheriting a more modest, albeit comfortable, sum of money that is less likely to pose to them the challenges that you have observed so many others fail?
2 You were as bright as your peers twenty years ago in school, and you have surely worked at your occupation as hard as anyone. Nevertheless, you observe so many of your friends and neighbors climb the ladder of financial success, while your job provides no more than a mediocre income, it has the potential, albeit with great stress, to turn into a lucrative profession. While your loving wife would not dream of inferring that she lacks for anything, you suffer the nagging feeling of stress and personal dissatisfaction. You contemplate abandoning the high pressured environment of your career, and seeking refuge in a field of greater personal satisfaction, but in a job that will surely eliminate any hope of significant financial advancement.
3 Once again you are unable to sleep as the charitable demands of yet another exceptionally needy family gnaw at your heart. Whether it be the cost of a child's life saving surgery, a family being split apart by poverty, or a wedding that may not be celebrated for lack of funds, the parade of needs presented to you are so often left unsatisfied despite your own, personal agreement to do your part. And so, while you gladly contribute as much as twenty percent of your income to charity, you cannot reconcile retaining your accumulated wealth with the suffering that could be eliminated if you would simply distribute to the needy the balance of your assets that are in excess of the actual needs of your family. How much is too much?
4 They repeatedly approach you to join the board of an important communal charity. You have declined yet again, noting that you are repulsed by the practice of many to assume a heightened level of communal visibility prompted primarily by personal financial success. While the organization appreciates your generous financial contribution, the organization asserts that your joining the board will add to the organization's prestige and significantly inure to the benefit of the community. Should you play a visible role or remain in the background?
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