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Q&A for Teens: Not Enough Money

Q&A for Teens: Not Enough Money

We don’t have as much money as the neighbors and it’s embarrassing.

by

Dear Lauren,

We don’t have as much money as the other people in our neighborhood do, and I’m always embarrassed by my clothes and shoes and our family car and stuff like that. It’s just not fair. I don’t like feeling “less than” because of our finances, but there it is.

Lauren Roth's Answer

1. Money is only a tool, not an end in and of itself. 2. Money is only a tool, not an appraisal of your value as a person.

God decides—on Rosh Hashanah, actually—how much money each person needs for his or her tasks in life. Some people are meant to have more money, others are meant to have less. But God apportions the amount, and it’s always for a good, Heavenly Decided reason.

Our job is not to bemoan our fate, but to use the Heavenly apportioned gifts we were each given to do good things throughout our life.

If I have been given talents, I’m supposed to use them to make the world a better place. If I have been given money, I’m supposed to use that money to make others (in my family and outside my family) more comfortable. I’m supposed to use it to give. If I’ve been blessed with boundless energy, I’m supposed to use that to improve lives. In a nutshell: whatever I’ve been given, I am to use that to serve God.

Money does not equal your value as a person.

Not having as much money as we want can be frustrating and limiting. Not having enough money for basic expenses can be fatal. Money is important. But only as a tool for sustaining our lives or as a tool for helping others. Beyond that, money does not equal your value as a person. A rich man is no more valuable as a person than a poor man. The rich man just has more tools at his disposal.

It happens to be that yesterday was my birthday. And the best birthday present was from my 4-year-old son. He drew a picture of himself (a little stick guy with a huge head, two eyes, and a lopsided, very cute smile) and a picture of me (a big stick guy with an even larger head, two eyes, and some square hair on top of the head!). Inside that decorated paper, he placed a broken green crayon and a broken pink crayon, and presented my gift to me: “Mommy, this is for you, for keeps! Because I know your favorite colors are pink and green.” Sooooo much better than fancy jewelry! Soooo much more meaningful!

The Jewish attitude towards money is: God gives you money to use for good things, especially for sharing it.

Compare and contrast the story of the two brothers from the Midrash, and the story of the two brothers from Roman mythology.

I actually started reviewing my Greek and Roman history, and the text I’m using is sprinkled with myths from the cultures. I thought I remembered the story of Romulus and Remus as being the same story as the Midrashic tale of the two brothers, but I was sorely mistaken. In contrasting the two very different stories, I think the discrepancy between the Jewish attitude towards money and the Greek/Roman/roots of Western culture attitude towards money will be clear.

The Midrash relates the story of two brothers who lived on neighboring farms. One brother was married with children, and the other brother was single, with no children. The single brother reasoned, “My brother has a wife and a family to feed, and I don’t. He probably could use some of my produce.” And he, secretly, in the middle of the night, took produce from his storehouse and placed it in his brother’s. At the same time, the married brother thought to himself, “My brother is probably sad and lonely without a wife and children. I’m going to give him some of my produce to ease his pain.” And he, secretly, in the middle of the night, took produce from his storehouse and placed it in his brother’s.

Each of the brothers was surprised each morning when the amount of produce they had given away was replenished. Finally, one night, the brothers accidentally met on their way to giving the other produce. They were both so moved by the sensitivity and caring of the other that they embraced. In that spot the Holy Temple was built.

Contrast that story of generosity, tzedaka, and brotherly love to the Roman one: the twin brothers Romulus and Remus wanted to found their own city, but couldn’t decide which of them should be king. So Romulus killed his brother, became the sole ruler of the new city, and named it Rome, after himself. Nice guy.

The Greco-Roman ideal was: “Grab all you can, for your glory and for the glory of Rome.”

The Jewish ideal is: “You are given what you are supposed to have, by God, and you should use it well to make your life comfortable and to make other people happy, and in the process of sharing, you will make yourself truly happy, too.”

Nowhere in Jewish philosophy does it say that having more stuff, or nicer stuff, makes you a more valuable person. God values every person equally. It’s the opposite of the T-shirt: “Whoever dies with the most toys, WINS!”

When my husband and I were both students, we had very little money. I remember once our water bill was due and we only had $2.34 in our checking account.

It was stressful not having money. But it was also a beautiful time. We had cost-free dates, like taking walks in the park, dancing to songs on the radio, playing board games with friends, or playing catch in the yard. I found a consignment shop with gorgeous clothes for when I needed something new. I’m not glorifying being poor. I’m just saying that life can be beautiful even without money.

When I had graduated from college and my husband was still a medical student, we had a little more cash, because I got a job. But the place where I worked was horrible—even the plants constantly died! That’s how toxic the environment was. I was so miserable there that I finally quit. (Side note: the woman I worked for was so punitive that she didn’t even let me quit in peace. She said, “You can’t quit, because I’m firing you!” Ugh.) So how did we manage? Well, it was winter in New Haven. To cut costs, we wore sweaters and long johns and turned off our heat. I’m not glorifying being poor, but I have to say: it was really cozy!

Not having enough money to survive or to buy necessities is an unlivable situation. And in that case, money must be acquired; through the government, through the tzedaka of others in the Jewish community, through the charity of other people….

But not having as much money as the neighbors…money doesn’t make the man, my friend.

Published: September 17, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 15

(13) Anonymous, October 25, 2013 12:52 AM

Tone down the flaunting

The wealthy have an obligation to be careful not to flaunt their wealth,and to be sensitive of the fact that many people struggle with finances.In the observant Jewish world ,being that Shabbos requires a walking distance to shul,and all need yeshiva/dayschools for children,it is normal for families with very different financial means to live near each other,and interact with each other.This is rare in the secular world where neighborhoods,friends,schools etc. inevitably follow your financial background.Poor people don't mingle with rich people in real everyday life like they constantly do with observant jews.Jewish values teach modesty in all areas of life,not just dress,and wealthy families are expected to tone it down,and not cause others to struggle with feelings of jealousy.I live in a neighborhood where a family is building a home that looks like a manor from the middle agesThe home is three to four times the average jewish home and includes both indoor and outdoor pools,making the home standout and practically shout"I am rich!"It seems reasonable to expect people to understand that this type of behavior is a bit immodest,not a recipe for a life of Jewish values,and seems down right crass.If you add the fact that the owner lectures about Jewish values,and encourages others to embrace a Torah lifestyle,and it becomes even more bizzare.All of us need to take a hard look at ourselves,wealthy and non wealthy alike,and work towards a life of Jewish values which includes both being happy for each others good fortune,and being modest about our financial ability.

(12) SX, September 28, 2013 3:00 PM

Really?

This is ridiculous. If god decides who gets what, then what precisely is the point of working to make a better life for ourselves and our families? It's all going to be static and amount to nothing anyway.

What about people like myself who have children with disabilities and have more costs than income? God condemned us to struggle constantly without ever getting anywhere, while there is no money and no one to care for our children after we die. If this is all predetermined, your god obviously enjoys seeing people broke and miserable and isn't worthy of the devotion he demands.

Think straight, September 29, 2013 5:04 PM

Really?

I don't have time to answer you fully, but start by not calling out ridiculus, without hearing anything of the topic. To give you a start by studiyng genesis and the curse to Adam, of working "with the sweat of your brow... ". There is a point to everything in the world, and you should work to find it, especially something you're involved with all day.

Anonymous, October 9, 2013 3:21 AM

I hear you....but there's a lot here

I have a special needs child too, and I hear you. This is a unique challenge that someone who hasn't seen it first hand just won't understand. But as much as the income we get is predetermined, that doesn't absolve us of putting in a reasonable amount of effort, because that's how God wants to run the world. Yes, your challenges come from God--a loving God who wants to bring out the best in you. And these situations (financial struggles, feeling alone, etc.) have the ability to bring out the best in us...or the worst. You decide.

(11) Anonymous, September 23, 2013 3:42 PM

"money is not an appraisal of your value as a person"

I am in total agreement with everything you wrote and I judge people by their middos, not their pocketbook. However, I reside on Long Island, and this article appears to sound like a "fairy tale". Where I live, whenever anybody new moves into the Jewish community, others "check you out" first to see what street, size of the house, condition of the house and what cars are in the driveway. Then they want to know what you do for a living. Sorry, but where I come from, this is an appraisal of your value as a person, and you are put into a specific category right away. Nobody wants to socialize with those whom they perceive as having "less than". It's like having a disease, Those who are "perceived to have less than", are unpopular and almost nobody wants to sit next to them in Shul, or invite them to shabbat meals or Bar-Mitzvahs, weddings, etc....if your house isn't beautiful, they will decline shabbat meal invitations to your home.They also think you are intellectually limited if you are in the service professions such as social work or teaching. You are perceived as a successful person only if you own a big money making business, are a CPA, Lawyer or are a doctor. If you are re-doing your home, everyone suddenly wants to be your friend. Thank goodness, I have the strength to stay away from those who judge individuals based on their financial status or job. It is lonely at times, not being part of the popular crowd, You have to be able to deal with being "unpopular" in the community and being left out. However, the friends I do choose to associate with are genuine and long lasting. They like me for who I am. "Money talks", It is the reality, you can't hide it nor sugar coat it. You just have to empower yourself to deal with it and be strong. Good luck!

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