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Home » Economy, Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa: Money Minded

Submitted by on February 28, 2010 – 5:18 amNo Comment | 2,886 views

The Golden Calf

In the desert our ancestors built and worshiped a golden calf. In our enlightened age we don’t deify calves or even gold for that matter, but in some ways we still behave as if gold were indeed the object of our worship.

The old adage, money makes the world go round, has never been truer. The fact is that hardly anything worthwhile can be procured or achieved without a financial investment. Fittingly, it is the accrual of money that takes up most of our energy and head space. When someone asks about our bottom line we usually associate the question with our net financial worth. When we are asked whether we are secure, we understand it as a question about financial security.

Debt and cash flow, portfolio and savings, retirement and children’s education are uppermost in our minds. Many marriages have dissolved and many families are torn asunder on account of money. Most stress is money related and most status accrues from money; the people we consider successful are usually those that are financially independent. (1)

Yet we also realize that the sum of our annual income is determined on Rosh Hashanah and nothing we do enhances or detracts from that sum. Worrying an extra moment or devising a new business plan will not result in a single dollar we were not intended to earn. We cannot stay at home and expect dollars to rain down from heaven, money - innerstreambut we can spend weekends and evenings with family rather than at work without losing opportunities we were fated to receive.

Three Grades

Though we ought not sit at home and pray for money to rain down from heaven there have been extraordinary cases in history when this was in fact the case. When our ancestors journeyed across the desert they were not required to work for their keep; manna fell from heaven daily and sustained the entire nation. (2)

Then there were those who worked for a living, but their work was rewarded manifold. Abraham, Jacob and Moses were shepherds, Isaac was a farmer. Neither shepherds nor farmers are heavily compensated for their work, yet each grew fabulously wealthy. They did not sit back, they worked for a living, but their work was clearly not the direct cause of their wealth; it was merely the vehicle through which they were showered with abundant blessing.

Then there are the rest of us; ordinary folk that work for a living and whose compensation is commensurate with our effort. The harder we work the higher is our income; the less we work, the lower is our income. This creates the appearance that our income is dependant on our work and that our efforts are the cause of our recompense. Yet, we are not different from the Patriarchs, Moses or our ancestors in the desert. Just as their reward was not dependant on their efforts, neither is ours. The same G-d that rewarded them is the G-d that rewards us.

G-d demands that we work and earn His blessing rather than receive it freely. The Torah states, “And G-d your Lord will bless you in all that you may do.” (3) The key here is that we must do something adequate, perform a reasonable amount of work, to garner G-d’s blessing. Without work the blessing does not come forth, but once we provide the vehicle, G-d releases the blessing.

Our work is thus not the cause of our recompense; it is merely its vehicle. The source of our compensation is G-d as the Torah states, “The blessing of G-d brings wealth.” (4) As such it is appropriate that we invest in the making of our vehicle as King David wrote, “By the toil of your hands shall you eat bread.” (5) King David did not suggest that we eat investing our peace of mind or by sacrificing emotional stability; all that is required is an investment of our hands. Our investment must be limited to the tactile; not the mental, emotional, spiritual or psychological. Our hands are invested in our labor, but our minds, hearts and souls must remain focused on the source of our blessing, G-d.

Drawing the Water

“What should a person do to become wealthy,” Rabbi Joshua ben Chanania was asked. “Engage in commerce,” replied the sage, “and be scrupulously honest.” Yet, he was asked; many have done so and have not succeeded. To which the Talmud responds that investment in commerce is not sufficient, to succeed fully it is also necessary that we pray to Him to whom wealth belongs as is written, “Gold is Mine, silver is mine.” (6) And, our sages conclude, one without the other does not work. (7)

Those who stay home to pray all day will not find a rent check in the morning mail. Those, who are completely invested in work and don’t make time for prayer in the morning and study in the evening, are also not fulfilling the maximum of their potential. Forgoing our prayers in order to grab another hour of work is akin to one who labors to fashion a sturdy pail, but neglects to fill it at the well. The pail is complete, but empty.

The path to success is the golden mean. A healthy dose of investment in our work lives, balanced by ethical living, charitable giving, heartfelt prayer, rigorous study sessions and of course time for our familial commitments. The wealth with which we are blessed when we follow this path is not merely financial; it is the kind that pays dividends for many years to come.

This kind of balance provides gold without worshiping the golden calf. It provides for our children, spouses, family, and community. It provides for our mental health, emotional sanity and spiritual well being. There might not be as many zeroes in our bank accounts, but those extra zeroes are never used anyway. We will, however, accrue the eminently valuable type of zeroes, the kind that we all like to cash in; joy, life and eternal reward. (8)


  1. It is interesting that those who are overly concerned with money do not become stress free when they strike it rich; having the extra cottage or yacht or being able to afford the exotic vacation does not automatically create a stress free environment. On the contrary, their stress level rises with every extra dollar they earn. The stress can be related to preserving and growing their wealth or to the concern that they might lose it. Yet those rare individuals that are not money oriented are just as happy in poverty as they are in wealth.
  2. On a similar note, when Joseph was imprisoned in an Egyptian jail he solicited the help of Pharaoh’s minister, who happened to be incarcerated alongside him. When the minister was released he promptly forgot Joseph, who languished in prison for two more years. Our sages taught that Joseph was punished for he had placed his trust in a human rather than G-d. The question is, was Joseph not required to take advantage of the opportunities that G-d placed in his path? We are taught that one ought not to rely on miracles. The baal Shem Tov explains that there are great tzadikim of whom this level of reliance on G-d is in fact expected. Ordinary people are required to work toward their salvation and keep , tzadikim such as Joseph, are expected to sit back and place their entire trust in G-d alone, while expecting salvation to flow from above.
  3. Deuteronomy 15: 18.
  4. Psalms 128: 2.
  5. Proverbs 10: 22.
  6. Babylonian Talmud, Nidah 70b.
  7. Chagai 2: 8
  8. This essay is based on Sefer Mamarim 5670 p. 74.
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