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Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5765
A Golden Opportunity
One of the barbs that anti-Semites use against Jews is that we are so preoccupied with wealth that many of us have names that contain the words “gold” and “silver.” We ourselves sometimes make comments about the destructive qualities of wealth, often the wealth that someone else has and we wouldn’t mind having in his place. Rashi on the first pasuk of Devarim understands that the words “Di Zahav” are a reference to the sin of the Golden Calf, which was caused, in part, by the huge amounts of gold that Bnei Yisrael received from Egypt (see also Berachot 31a).
So we know that wealth is spiritually bad. But is it? The number and prominence of sources that consider wealth one of the greatest possible blessings is staggering. We will suffice with a few. Avraham was promised wealth if he sojourned to the unknown land (Rashi on Bereishit 12:2). One of the two consolations for 400 years of slavery was that Bnei Yisrael would leave with great riches (Bereishit 15:14). King Shlomo was rewarded for his sincerity with riches and honor (Melachim I, 3:13), the same things we ask for monthly in Birkat Hachodesh. So is wealth a blessing or a curse?
Let us answer the question with a question. Is life itself a blessing … or perhaps a curse? Chazal (Eruvin 13b) come to the conclusion that it would have been preferable for a person had he not been created. BUT, continues the gemara, “now that he has been created, let him look into his deeds.” In other words, the greatest gifts are opportunities. They can turn out to be destructive, as we are quite capable of misusing and abusing them. However, we are instructed to safeguard the gifts and concentrate on using them properly. Regarding life, the gemara gave a solution. How does one use gold and other forms of wealth to his true advantage?
Of course, one way is with the mitzva of tzedaka. If we investigate the sources we have already seen and a couple others, we can find other insights. In the aftermath of the accumulation of wealth, Bnei Yisrael formed the Golden Calf. But in the aftermath of that sin, they used their gold and silver very wisely, by building an adorned Tabernacle, through which to commune with Hashem. That, of course, was a wise use of the opportunity presented by masses of precious metals. Revisiting Brit Bein Habetarim (Bereishit15:14), we can suggest as follows. Bnei Yisrael were to be enslaved for 400 years and then emerge with riches. Part of the need for those riches was to raise their self-image. They were no longer weak slaves; they were suddenly a rich nation, whose oppressors were decimated, as they emerged with endless opportunities. Notice the aforementioned connections between riches and honor. Wealth can also provide one with the stature, independence, and self-confidence to lead. It is even good for a kohen gadol and dayan to be well-off so that they can possess these leadership aids (see Ketubot 105b).
Life’s blessings (including life itself) give a person the opportunity to act in positive and negative ways. Whether rich or poor, we are all blessed in many ways. Let us choose life and use the opportunities prudently.
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