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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5778

Ein Ayah: When Wealth Is Not Helpful

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 6:23)

Gemara: Three things bring a person to the point of poverty: One who urinates in front of his bed when he is naked; one who is not careful to perform netilat yadayim (washing the hands); one whose wife curses him to his face.


Ein Ayah: Being rich, and thus not being poor, includes three positive impacts. One is that it allows for an increased gentility, connected with cleanliness and purity, which poverty ruins. The second is the brightening and elevating of an individual’s spirit, which brings a person to sanctity, good actions, and a pure life. The third is the peace within the family and its positive influence on the interrelationship between people in general, which has a lot of impact on the general education of people.

 For those people whose personalities are complete in regard to these elements, Divine Providence is likely to view him as a good candidate for wealth, as wealth will prepare him for the role in the world that he is fit to have. After all, Hashem is the One who “gives abundance to all who live in His grace” (Tehillim 145:16). In contrast, one who lowers himself to a lifestyle of disgrace, to the point that he cannot inspire himself to seek luxury so that he can act with dignity in the way he acts in his home is deserving of poverty. Why should he receive wealth if he does not know how to use it properly, as he is missing one of the foundations of the spirit which go well with riches? One who urinates before his bed when naked is one of the starkest examples of a disgusting home life, of one who has no inner yearning to expand the delicateness of his soul, which is something that poverty would inhibit.

The idea of brightening and elevating of an individual’s spirit is epitomized by washing one’s hands before eating, which Chazal derived from “You shall sanctify yourselves” (Vayikra 20:7). There is something about the desire to eat that can lower man toward the level of an animal, with coarse emotions making up the essence of his life power. On the other hand, he has the ability to elevate himself, with the spiritual advantages he has over animals, to the point that his table can be refined by his intellect and his divinely endowed pleasantness in a major way. The first step toward this improvement is washing his hands before eating in order to sanctify himself, and recognizing that the table is Hashem’s table and the eating should be an eating of sanctity and delicateness, not just an unsightly physical necessity. Someone who cannot take this washing of the hands seriously has no right to ask for wealth or the lack of poverty. After all, riches would anyway not work well for his spirit in regard to his coarse human needs but only on the internal fineness that goes with the physical needs being used for spiritual ones.

The third goal of wealth is to help facilitate peace within the family. If one’s wife curses him to his face due to his improper behavior, he has already lost the feeling and the ability to maintain a morally proper family model, so how will riches help? Therefore, he is slated for poverty. “Like the actions of a person he will be paid, and like the paths of a person he will be provided” (Iyov 34:11).

The main determinant of whether a person will be elevated or lowly are his actions and comportment, which impact his characteristics. Hashem arranges it so that these actions determine what tools the person will be given to do his tasks. “Hashem is the judge; this one He lowers, and this one He raises up” (Tehillim 75:8).

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