Beshalach: Rich and humble

Is it possible to be rich and humble or is that an oxymoron?

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Oxymoron?
Is it possible to be rich and humble or is that an oxymoron? So many people grow haughty when they meet with success, but if you think about it logically, it makes little sense. If we take our measure by the depth of our bank account, we have little to be proud of. If we take our measure by the depth of our character, money has little to do with it. So why do we grow proud when we grow wealthy?

Fortunately, this is not true of everyone. There are plenty of people, who are rich and humble, but the opposite occurs so often that it leaves us to wonder, why do rich people feel so proud?

Blessing and Curse
A little girl once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory whether nuclear energy is good or bad. The Rebbe asked her in return, whether the knife in her kitchen drawer is good or bad. The girl correctly replied that it is neither good nor bad, it depends on how it is used. The Rebbe replied, that the same is true of everything in the world, including nuclear energy.

This is true of money too. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how it is used. Depending on how we let it affect us. Two people might win a hundred million dollars in the lottery. For one it will be a blessing, for the other it will be a curse.

One of them will be exhilarated over the windfall, be filled with gratitude, even humility, over the undeserved gift. This person will now feel relived of financial stress, will be able to pay off the mortgage, provide for the family and give to charity. This person will continue to live in the same home, in the same lifestyle and in the same social circle. There might not be a need to continue with their job or career so he or she might use the time for prayer, Torah study and good deeds. To this person, the money will be a blessing.

The other will discover that money is a curse. This person will immediately by a palatial home, a Bentley, a private yacht and all the other trimmings enjoyed by the wealthy. They will dress in designer clothes, bl buy a penthouse on Fifth Avenue and a villa on the Riviera.

They will then dabble in investments and business opportunities. They will now fly around the world meeting with oil tycoons and real estate magnets, investing here and there. After all, if you have money, you need to grow it. If you have fifty million, you need to turn it in to a hundred million. And when you get to a hundred million, you need to reach for two hundred million.

The bottom line is that they have grown so busy that they literally don’t have a moment for themselves, let alone their family and community. They no longer fraternise with their old friends because they now belong to the upper crust. There is no longer time for attending synagogue services or Torah classes; they are busy with more important things. In fact, they are doing such important things, that they grow self important.

To the first person, the money was a blessing, to the second it was a curse. The first person grew humble and grateful. The second person grew selfish and haughty. The first person discovered lots of time for Torah and good deeds. The second discovered a hectic life and a harried pace.

The Needs Are Many
In Judaism there is a lovely idiom that goes like this. “One who feels small is truly great. One who feels great, is truly small.” The person who feels small and humble when receiving a large, undeserved gift, is truly great. The person who feel self important by receiving this gift, is truly small. It is the same money, but it makes one person great and the next person small.

If you feel that this is a G-d-given gift and that you are merely the recipient, you are satisfied with what you have and are filled with gratitude. If you feel that you were chosen for this windfall because you are special, then, puffed up with self importance, you feel compelled to prove yourself and justify G-d’s faith in you. So, you start dabbling in the ways of the wealthy and before long your list of needs has outgrown you. You have not a moment to yourself. Rather than bringing calm, the money has brought stress.

Toward the end of Yom Kippur, we chant a prayer that goes like this: “The needs of your nation are many, and their minds are short.” On the face of it, the prayer appears to be saying that the nation’s many needs are exacerbated by the fact that their minds are overwhelmed. But upon analyses we reach a deeper conclusion: the needs of your nation are many because their minds are short.

When we keep our mind focused on G-d, we are grateful for what we have, we are relatively worry and stress free and our needs are therefore manageable. When our minds are too short to recognize the hand of G-d in our lives, we are left to face our many needs on our own. It becomes overwhelming and burdensome. Rather than finding ways to solve our problems, we seem to dig even deeper holes.

The solution is to return to the basics recognize G-d’s presence in our lives. We have many needs, but G-d ultimately finds ways to solve most of them. When we move through life with a healthy attitude of reliance on G-d, our efforts bear fruit and we are more successful. We don’t drive ourselves to greater and more complicated challenges and we don’t chase unnecessary and exorbitant luxuries. We don’t buy things only because others have them and we don’t worry so much when a solution is not near at hand. We reclaim our peace of mind and as our minds grow strong and our list of needs grows short.

Splitting The Sea
We are now positioned to perceive a fascinating aspect of the splitting of the sea. G-d looked down from above and saw the Egyptians chasing the Jews. He wanted to save the Jews and punish the Egyptians. You would think that G-d would perform two actions, one to save the Jews and another to punish the Egyptians. But in a stroke of brilliance, G-d achieved both in a single action. He split the sea, leading the Jews to their salvation and the Egyptians to their grave. How can one action have such contrary effects?

As it is with money so it is with the sea. If you are running for your life and a sea splits before you, it can be your salvation or your death depending on your attitude. If you see it as the hand of G-d and run toward it in gratitude, it becomes your salvation. If you see it as a sign of your own prowess and run towards it with arrogance, it can easily become your grave. G-d’s action was the same for both, it was man’s reactions that were so different.

Fortunately, we can learn from history. This way we won’t be doomed to repeat it.

This essay is based on Sefer Mamarim, 5636, DH Mayim Rabim



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