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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Wealth Causes Problems

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the desert, in the plain, opposite Suph, between Paran, and between Tophel, and Laban, and Chatzeros, and Di-zahav.

The Chofetz Chaim once spoke of the time he saw a drunkard lying on the sidewalk in Vilna. Children surrounded him, laughing at him. Someone came up to the drunk man with a mocking smile on his face and said to him, “What kind of man are you? It is a pity you don’t know what humiliation drunkenness causes. If I were inebriated I would be careful not to lie sprawled on the sidewalk and show everyone that I was drunk.”

The Chofetz Chaim compared the attitude of these onlookers towards the drunken man with the attitude of ordinary folk towards rich people. Just as the sober onlookers assumed that were they to become drunk they would still behave responsibly, when, in fact, most would behave no differently than the drunkard, so too, poor people criticize the rich for their stinginess certain that they would give charity generously if they had the money when in fact most would behave no differently than those they criticize.

In other words, many people are critical of the wealthy who do not donate as much charity as they are capable of giving. They claim that if they were wealthy they would give to all charities with a generous hand. Such people forget that they are speaking at a time when they are poor therefore think they have good hearts. However, if they were to become wealthy, it is quite likely that they would have a change of heart and become as stingy as the wealthy people they criticize. Wealth is similar to drunkenness; its intoxicating nature causes a person to forget his duties. (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, p.258)

People forget that wealth can be a deterrent to charity giving. Wealth can also be a deterrent to our marital bliss.

Our Sages relate a midrash from the house of Rabbi Yanay regarding the verse which says, “And enough of gold.” (This is an alternative understanding of the word “Di-zahav” in the verse above). Moshe said before Hashem, “Because You bestowed upon them silver and gold until they said, ‘Enough!’ they came to make the Golden Calf.”

Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said “It is comparable to a man who had an only son. He washed him, perfumed him, fed him, gave him drink, dressed him nicely, put a wallet full of money around his neck, and then sat him down at the doorstop of a brothel. What can the son do to prevent himself from sinning? And what caused him to sin? The wallet around his neck. And that is what is meant when people say ‘Someone who fills his stomach is ready for all sorts of bad things.’” (Yalkut 797)

What is the message of the midrash concerning the trials of wealth? How does the parable of the rich man’s son further illuminate our understanding?

The Torah is teaching us to avoid the pursuit of wealth, since it can be catastrophic to a person spiritually. That was the redeeming excuse that Moshe used to justify the sin of the Golden Calf. He maintained that the nation of Israel were not guilty since they had received a tremendous amount of gold when they left Egypt, and this glut of money caused them to sin. If only Hashem had not bestowed so much money upon them, the whole incident could have been avoided.

The parable in the midrash is also very clear. You cannot blame the son for sinning when you give him a great deal of money and put him in a place full of sin. Since worldly pleasures always cost money, it is the means which most effectively facilitates the pursuit of sin. Our Sages are warning us that money is in itself the greatest enticement to sin. That is one of the reasons why money commonly leads to transgression; by its nature, it entices the spender to utilize it for worldly purposes devoid of spiritual content.

Solomon, the wisest of all men, said “Poverty and wealth, give me not.” When he was asked by Hashem what it was that he desired, he replied that his desire was only for wisdom. It is interesting to note that the wisest of all pursuits, namely the pursuit of Torah, is available for free.

Wealth carries with it great dangers and moral tests. Therefore a person should avoid seeking more wealth than is necessary to meet one’s basic needs, thus ensuring that he will have less enticement to sin.

Not Running After Wealth in Marriage

This lesson also pertains to married life. A woman has great influence on her husband and can sway him to good or bad. The Sefer Chasidim tells of a righteous woman who married a wicked man, and she influenced him to become righteous. But when a wicked woman married a righteous man, she swayed him to become a wicked. Therefore a woman must recognize her powers to influence and use them to help her husband follow the right path.

When a woman complains of the poverty she is suffering her husband feels an obligation to seek wealth. But who can foretell the consequences? Perhaps this woman is unknowingly leading her husband to sin. It is even possible that the sins he performs to satisfy her may lead to further problems which could cause the marriage to fall apart. For example, once he has more money, her husband might seek worldly pleasures and thus be distracted from the love he owes his wife. She thinks she will be gaining due to the wealth they will acquire, but this could very well lead to her losing the most precious thing she has — her husband.

Of course, a husband is obligated to provide a livelihood for his wife, and he should not use this fear of having too much wealth as an excuse for letting his family live in poverty when he is able to earn a living. He should earn as much as his family needs to meet their basic requirements and the rest of his time and energy should go into learning Torah and performing mitzvos.

It is a well-known fact that divorces are more common among wealthy people. This is the case since the excess money that they have, brings with it many temptations that can poison a marriage. When someone treasures his marriage, he should avoid acquiring wealth for its own sake, since this can only damage the greatest treasure he has, which is his marriage.

In the example that our Sages gave of the son who is given too much money and consequently sins, we do not blame the son, but rather we blame the father who gave him all that extra money. Similarly, in the case of the wife who pressures her husband to seek wealth, she may be causing him to sin, and so ultimately, will be blamed for his actions.

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