Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 24 March 2012 / 29 Adar I 5772

Money Canít Buy You Life

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Melissa

Dear Rabbi,

I am financially independent and reasonably well-off. I feel that my financial situation is a function of my hard work, and therefore have trouble with the idea that G-d is the source of my wealth, or that I must pray to, or thank G-d, for my livelihood. I can buy anything I need, and certainly feel no shortage for things as basic as food. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

Dear Melissa,

I am happy for you that you are fortunate enough to be not only financially independent, but also successful in your endeavors, which affords you material abundance, and which, I hope, gives you true personal fulfillment as well.

However, the Torah warns one of attributing such success to one’s labors alone, thereby taking G-d out of the picture:

“Beware that you do not forget G-d, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day... lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein... and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases... and you will say to yourself, ‘My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me’...But you must remember G-d, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 8:11-18).

So we see that the Torah foresees the possibility of a person’s G-d-given wealth actually being a reason for denying G-d and ultimately leading one to rebel against His will, when, in fact, that wealth was bestowed specifically for the purpose of drawing one closer to G-d and enabling one to serve Him all the better.

I don’t question or make light of your abilities and effort. But one should consider what the source of those abilities is, and why he or she has them, while others don’t. You did not create yourself with those endowments, but rather they were gifted to you. Furthermore, there are certainly others with similar, or perhaps even greater, abilities who also expend effort, perhaps even more than you and yet they have not achieved the bounty you have. Why is this? Please recognize the special blessing you’ve been given.

In addition, not everyone who has wealth is happy. Nor can wealth purchase happiness. At most it may buy distractions from unhappiness. Such wealth is not a blessing. Wealth cannot purchase health either, nor does it necessarily guarantee life, or even its basic necessities, as the following story illustrates:

A certain very wealthy man boasted that while he may die of many things, given his great wealth he will certainly never die of hunger. As a regular pastime the man would visit his treasure vaults and wander blissfully through his vast wealth. One day the vault door closed behind him and he was locked in with lots of gold, silver and jewels – but no food. As the story goes, there, without even pen and paper, he wrote his own epitaph with blood drawn from a brooch and stenciled onto a banknote: “Here died one most wealthy of starvation”.

Whether the story is true or not, it certainly shows most poignantly that money can’t buy you life – nor can it be relied on to buy even something as basic as a piece of bread. It is for this reason that one must acknowledge and request Divine favor.

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