From riches to rags. From fortune to financial straits. From billions to bankruptcy.
All too often, stories of the wealthy who have lost their fortune are heard reverberating in the now barren mansions of Hollywood stars and professional athletes. The surge of millions of dollars into a once meager bank account can stretch spending habits to levels most of us will never experience – but those habits only last so long. According to a recent study by US Trust, the private wealth management wing of Bank of America, “70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and a stunning 90% by the third.”
The principle of saving for the future is not foreign. Don’t spend every penny you have on today; build a nest egg for tomorrow. In droves, financial institutions compete to help us make sure we have enough money when we retire. They’d love to invest our money and earn their fees. From IRAs and 401ks to mutual funds, stocks and bonds, even investing in precious metals. We hear about it regularly. It’s a part of our culture.
With nearly endless savings options quite literally at our fingertips, why do so many fail with their fortunes? According to the US Trust research, the answer is really quite simple. While the principle of saving money for the future is ubiquitous, it still requires regular discussion to sink in deep enough to make people actually change their spending and saving habits. “Talk early and often … give your kids a crash course in financial literacy.”
Talk early and often. This principle of learning – and relearning – valuable lessons is well known in Jewish literature. Full books have been written on the topic of the importance of reviewing what we’ve already learned. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, known simply by the acronym of his name, the Ramchal, was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher, and he, too, extolled the virtue of learning, and more importantly relearning, basic truths. The Ramchal writes this principle in the opening lines of his famous Mesilas Yesharim, a concise book on growth and character development. Paraphrasing his language, he writes that because the concepts he covers in his book are known to us all, the benefits of reading the Mesilas Yesharim come from continued readings of the book. With each proper perusal, the attuned reader will reveal yet another layer of its depth- deepening the values and ideals that the Ramchal teaches.
Interestingly, the Gemara in Chullin records that there is a difference between learning something 100 times compared to learning something 101 times. After learning something 100 times, you know it by heart already. So what is the point of learning it yet again? Yet our wiring is such that the more times we learn something, the more it can- and will- shape our behavior. The most transformative method of change for us and for our children is to learn the basic principles of the Torah repeatedly- early and often. The Ramchal is teaching us a critical lesson: most individuals know what is right and wrong, what to do and what not to do; but if the basic principles are not deeply ingrained in us, then we will not be successful in achieving our greatest aspiration- to have a deep and meaningful relationship with God.
In the month of Elul and the upcoming High Holidays, it is an opportune time to place our focus on what matters most. Take the time to talk about the critical aspects of growth and connecting to Hashem. Place your values front and center, and speak about them regularly with those you care about. The impact can be simply transformative.
Rabbi Phil Karesh is the Midwest Regional Director of the Orthodox Union’s Community Engagement Department, and partners with communities and Shuls throughout the Midwest Region toward the greater goals of the OU- to engage, strengthen and inspire the greater Jewish community.