Brainstorming with Baars Parshat Devarim: Money, Money, Money!
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Devarim(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

Money, Money, Money!

Despite what ABBA may have proclaimed, it's not a rich man's world.

Curtis L. Carlson, the founder of the Gold Bond Stamp Company and owner of the Radisson Hotel chain had 150,000 employees and $20 billion in annual revenue, said:

"There's nothing people like me worry about more, how ... do we keep our money from destroying our kids?"

It's hard to appreciate this important point if you don't have that kind of wealth, but this kind of worry is worse than anything you might be going through with making ends meet.

The rich man's worry has no respite. It not only applies to his or her children, but flows down to their grandchildren. On the other hand, your worry about paying the mortgage will one day end when (hopefully) you will make it.

A rich man once told me, "Anyone who thinks wealth is easier than poverty, never had wealth."

I don't want you to think that Judaism aspires to asceticism -- far from it. Money is a blessing. But all blessings are burdened with risks that without prior knowledge are as great a danger as they are a blessing.

This knowledge is generally attained through the process of earning your wealth, and therefore there is a world of difference between winning or inheriting a fortune. The fruits of your own challenges and efforts to earn your keep will (hopefully) one day be realized and you will appreciate what you have achieved.

"If you don't watch out, you can set up a situation where a child never has the pleasure of bringing home a paycheck." T. Boone Pickens Jr.

It's with that understanding that we can appreciate this week's parsha.

Moses shares with us one of the Jewish people's complaints: God brought us out of Egypt because He hated us! (Deut. 1:27)

Rashi, the pre-eminent medieval commentator on the Torah explains what they meant, "A parable to a king that has two sons and two fields, one field well irrigated and one arid. To the son he loves he gave the irrigated field, to the one he hates he gave the arid field. The land of Egypt is irrigated, the Nile rises and waters it, the land of Canaan is arid: 'and God brought us out of Egypt to give us the land of Canaan.' "

Clearly, if God loved the Jewish people He would have given them Egypt! The problem every rich parent has, is the same one God has. The child or in this case the Jewish people, think if you loved him you would make their life easy.

Let me explain.

Your 18 year old daughter buys a lottery ticket, with a top prize of $250 million.

You both sit over the radio listening to the winning numbers come in. She gets the first one and gets all excited.

Then she gets the second - now she's nervous and you look heavenward.... She's got six numbers correct and if she wins the next she's buying three stretch limos.

There's a commercial break. You go in the other room and cry to God. She starts praying too.

But not for the same thing.

When she loses does she thank God?

No, but you do.

In Egypt then as in America today, you can get to a place of not being financially worried. We can all relate to the comfort of knowing the Nile will rise every year, it is something in which we can rely, trust, believe in and possibly even worship. The problem is, once you get there, what do you do to make life interesting?

Curtis Carlson: "I know one extremely wealthy Minnesota family that has 63 heirs in the fourth generation, and none is gainfully employed."

Why is Israel better than Egypt? Because Israel is a land of constant challenges. I know you all think that life would be better in Israel if there were no strife, and it's not that I don't pray for that too, but you and I who do not live there have a far greater problem than they do.

No one in Israel thinks that money will solve their biggest problems. Everyone in America does.

Despite what many Israelis may tell you, living life on the edge is really a thrill. Constant awareness to the meaning of life is not only required but necessary to exist there. Israelis know who they are.

Do your children?

The very existence of Israel is dependent on their sense of purpose. Without it they could not fight, they could not work, and they could not overcome their daily struggles. The Land of Israel is a function of a life of true focus, meaning and brotherliness, to whatever degree it is achieved.

If you leave your children a small fortune you are almost invariably ruining the lives of your grandchildren. If you leave them a spot in the Land of Israel, you can know with almost total certainty your children and your grandchildren will thank you.

What solace we would find in knowing we were leaving our children in a land where the messages are clear, as though we were entrusting our future in the hands of a good friend whom we knew would point out to them every wrong turn they made.

The Jewish people mistakenly thought that if God really loved them He would make life easy for them, when in reality, the opposite is the truth.

Warren Buffet pledged 99% of his wealth to charity, "...This pledge will leave my lifestyle untouched and that of my children as well. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced..."

If you think more deeply about what Mr. Buffet is saying, he is telling you that getting that 99% is a complete waste of time.

The only thing that is worth doing with it, is to give it away because it can't do you any good. Or, as I like to say, if you are reading this on a computer, while sipping on a cafe-latte, then YOU are well within the top 1% richest people walking on this planet today.

YOU are the rich person!

So, what do you plan to leave your children?

* * *

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: Which is a more difficult test, the test of poverty or wealth?

Question 2: If you lived 100 years ago with the lifestyle you have today, you would be considered the richest person on the planet. Do you think that would solve all of your problems?

Published: July 11, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, July 15, 2010 3:16 AM

Sorry Rabbi but I can't buy into this one

I really appreciate the way that you weaved the story line and the way that you made it fit but I just cannot agree. First, a land is more than an economic entity. It is alive. There are many people who will not trade their piece of desert for acres of fertile land. In the same way that a rich person can say that anyone who thinks wealth is easier than poverty.....in the same way a poor man can say that anyone who thinks that poverty is easier than wealth has never been truly poor. I find a strange contrast between people winning the lottery, inheritance and those who work. It was my understanding that you can work all you want but you can still be poor unless Hashem is there. Also, what is the difference between a winning lottery and the gifts that Hashem gives to us? Although I understand what the message is, I guess I am trying hard to get away from this American ideal of work hard and everything will be fine. Moses worked pretty hard for 40 years and that big goal escaped him. Yes, I have seen quite a few rich famiiies whose children have not turned out so well, but I have seen many young rich people who turned out very well. In fact I have seen many young people from rich families who turned out great. They are not taking their BMW and spinning the wheels. They have completed university. They are doing a professional designation. If in the family business they act as if they will not inherit the business. I am sorry Rabbi but poverty is awful in every way. I think it destroys more character then it helps to build That is my two cents.

(1) gerard smal, July 14, 2010 6:10 PM

Excellant so timely in these times we are stressed

You are so in touch with the problems of our time, you are so different excellant in bringing hope and new insights. The new debt crisis even bites here down in south africa and your message is lifting my spirirts. Thank you so much. Gerard

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