Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Yitro
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The Torah teaches us important lessons about wealth and money in this week’s parsha. In fact many of the Ten Commandments deal with directly or indirectly with money and wealth. The commandment about the observance of the Sabbath teaches us that money is not nearly everything in life. The drive for wealth and the necessity of making a living in difficult times drove the immigrant generation in the United States which was overwhelmingly traditional to work on the Sabbath. This has inevitably led to the great and tragic assimilation of a great many of Americans of Jewish descent and to a wave of crippling intermarriages. There are exceptions to this rule but generally it is true. Those who discarded the Sabbath in favor of wealth and seeming physical comfort are the unfortunate and unintentional progenitors of a generation of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are no longer Jewish in any sense of the word. Wealth and money are necessary parts of everyone’s life. But the Sabbath trumps them - it is the most important element of Jewish life and the one guarantee of Jewish success and survival. A more direct view on the problem of money and wealth lies in the commandment not to covet. Coveting the belongings of another, the possessions and spouse of another is one of the Ten Commandments. One could say it lies at the root of many of the other commandments. One cannot understand the commandment not to kill others and not to steal from them only through the prism of the commandment not to covet what does not belong to one. It is as simple as that.

Stealing comes in many forms and shapes and circumstances. From misleading advertising to Bernard Madoff, stealing is pretty much rife in the world. The rabbis of the Talmud stated that most people eventually are found guilty of having stolen something in their lives. The drive to acquire more for one’s own self, to be richer and apparently more financially secure, drives the person to steal in a myriad ways. The drive for wealth forces moral and eventually legal compromises with the pure conscience that the Torah wished us to possess. The halacha even possesses within it the concept of stealing someone else’s mind and intent. One is not allowed to mislead other people in order to obtain financial reward for one’s self. I knew a good person who while selling his home nevertheless informed the potential buyer of all of the hidden defects that existed in the house. Kosher money is harder to come by than is kosher food. The dive for wealth, if left unchecked and untamed, can also eventually lead to murder. Many a murder has occurred in human life because of money. King Solomon stated that money can answer all problems but nevertheless he was forced to admit in his own life that was not exactly accurate in that assessment. It can answer many problems but it is not all powerful. All money is fungible and impermanent. Don’t take my word for it; just look around at our current world.
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