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Wealth is a Good Thing - Terumah

Friday, 8 February, 2019 - 10:55 am

This week’s portion opens with G‑d’s  directive to Moshe that the Jewish People donate gold, silver, and many other valuable items to the "building campaign" – ie: to build a home in which G‑d’s presence would dwell among Israel.

In this spirit, allow me to share a few words about money and wealth: 

The story is told of a poor man who, despite his own poverty, would always invite strangers to come into his home and eat a home-cooked meal. His generosity was all the more special due to his own circumstances.

In the merit of these acts of kindness, he was blessed with riches and soon found himself in a large mansion. Now, a change started to occur. Slowly, the poor were no longer welcome in his home. First it was a hint, then a suggestion, finally he would not even let then into his new home lest they spoil the hand-woven white carpets. He was dismissive of their pleas for help, suggesting to them that they should work harder.

As news of his mean behavior spread, he soon found himself shunned by his former friends and colleagues. In despair, he called upon a wise old rabbi.

As they were talking in the mansion, the rabbi pointed to a huge mirror situated on the wall facing the street, feigning ignorance. "What a strange window! All I see is myself! Where are all the people on the street?"

The man laughed. "Rabbi, it is not a window it is a mirror." "But I don't understand", said the rabbi, "it is made of glass, like a window." "If it were only glass you would be able to see the other people. But this is a mirror. It has a layer of silver added to it. Now you only see yourself."

"Aha!" said the wise rabbi. "Now I see the problem. When you add the silver, all you see is yourself!"

So is wealth something negative? Not at all. As Jews, we do not frown upon wealth, prosperity, or material success. In fact, the great Rabbi Yehuda (135-188CE) who recorded our entire tradition, paid special respect and accorded honor to the wealthy among Israel .

Why did Rabbi Yehuda do this? Because of a golden rule in Jewish teaching: G‑d gives each of us the precise tools, talents, and abilities necessary for us to fulfill our mission in life. If someone has been blessed with wealth and success, that is a sign from heaven that this individual is endowed with the strength to utilize this wealth to fulfill an extraordinary mission.

In the 1950s, the Rebbe visited Gan Israel summer camp (now the largest chain of Jewish summer camps) where he saw a notice in the office saying, "Money is the root of all evil." The Rebbe commented that the sign was incorrect. Money can – and should – produce tremendous good. It all depends on the person using it.

Each of us has wealth in one form or other. Let us remember that we’ve been given these gifts to use and build a "home for G‑d"; to ensure that the mitzvahs we do are "first class": not just a simple mezuzah - beautiful scrolls, not just a simple candlestick - but a beautiful silver pair. Our material wealth is just a tool; a tool to make our family life and community life one that is infused and permeated with a higher sense of meaning and purpose.

Shabbat Shalom,

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