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5764

Life After Overdraft


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim

Our Sages teach: "The rich man is he who is content with his portion." In other words, a person who has little but is happy is, in fact, rich. On the other hand, one who wallows in luxuries yet is unhappy is not rich. The words of our Sages are indeed true. Wealth is not a goal in itself but a means to make a person good and happy. Hence, one who knows how to be content with what he has is in fact rich. It is possible to be happy with very little, even to the point of living on stale bread. In the words of the wisest of men, King Solomon: "Better stale bread with satisfaction than a table full of strife-ridden offerings."

One who believes that the Almighty oversees all and acts benevolently toward His creatures must be happy with his lot. Such a person must and thank God for whatever he has and believe that the Almighty has given him precisely what he ought to have - no more and no less. Everything is accurately measured out, and everything is for the best. One who is not content with what he has suffers from more than just flawed character traits; he demonstrates a deficiency of faith.

Consequently, a person whose bank account is continuously overdrawn is, in effect, not satisfied with what he has been given. He is not "happy with his lot." He lives off what he does not have. Such a person has discarded true wealth; because he must use any money he earns for paying off his negative balance, he actually has no money at all. What's more, he is punished for not being content with what he has, and accordingly receives even less than what God has apportioned him, because he must pay monthly interest to the bank. The sense of respite one receives by withdrawing beyond one's limit is a foolish illusion. The exact opposite is true. Therefore, anybody who wishes to be truly rich musk make an inner resolution: I will avoid overdraft. In addition, if such a person at present maintains a negative balance, he must resolve to get himself out of this predicament as soon as possible. Such a decision itself gives one a feeling of inner happiness, while the actual carrying out of this decision will serve to increase one's "riches". Teaching oneself to be happy with what one possesses will bring in its wake astonishing mental health.

Children too must be educated to live within their means. If there is not enough money to buy the more expensive food products, the lesser expensive products should be purchased. If sufficient money is lacking for new clothes, one continues to wear the old. This is what the Almighty has given, and one must be happy with it. One should not be embarrassed by the fact that he does not wear new clothing, have new books, or eat the more expensive food brands. One should rather be embarrassed when behaving improperly or committing transgressions.

However, before all else, it is the parents themselves who must internalize this message; once this has been accomplished, it is possible to educate one's children regarding this matter. It is also possible to receive aid from rabbis and educators in convincing and teaching children to be content with what they have.

I have advised the free-loan funds in our area to help those individuals and families who have decided to get out of overdraft. I suggested that such people be given preference over others and that they be given loans on comfortable terms in order to pay off their debts to the bank. At the same time, they should begin to accustom themselves to reducing their expenditures, to live within their means, and to be happy with their lot.

I am well aware that it is not easy for one who has become accustomed to a high standard of living to give this up, and it is even more difficult for children to make the adjustment. Yet, as difficult as it is, this is what must be done. The Almighty puts to the test those whom He believes are capable of persevering. Such individuals must demonstrate the extent of their faith and their recognition of the fact that whatever God does is for the best - to be happy with what they have and to be happy with what they do not have. Why be happy with what one does not have? The answer is that if a person receives more than what he ought to, it has a detrimental effect. Therefore, one must express thanks that he has not yet received what he does not at present need.

This is the meaning of the blessing which we recite each morning, "Blessed are You O Lord, King of the Universe, for having provided me with all of my needs." In other words, we recognize that the Almighty provides us with everything we need. He does not leave out a single one of our needs. Moreover, we know that what He does not give us, it is better that we not have, for possessing it would not be for our good. In this manner, we whole-heartedly bless the Almighty each morning, "...for having provided me with all of my needs." This is how our beloved mentor, Rabbi A.I. Kook elucidates this blessing in his commentary to the prayerbook, Olat Ra'ayah.


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