Wealth: The Ideal Way to Serve G-d?

By Rav Moshe Weinberger

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These parshios are filled with great wealth, gold, and silver. The Mishkan itself, the vessels in the Mishkan, and the garments of the kohein gadol must be made of gold, silver, bronze and rich fabrics. Why does Hashem demand such honor and glory” (Shmos 28:2)? What purpose does this serve? Doesn’t Hashem prefer when we walk humbly with G-d” (Micha 6:8)? Doesn’t the Mishna in Avos (6:4) say, This is the path of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink a measure of water, sleep on the earth, live a life of pain, and toil in Torah”? While none of the kosher restaurants on the avenue have yet to be named Bread with Salt,” isn’t such simplicity, even deprivation, the ideal? Why does the Torah command such opulence when it comes to the Mishkan and the kohanim? And why do these parshios of using our wealth to serve Hashem always occur during the month of Adar, the time of joy?

One could answer that gold, silver, honor, and glory are only the ideal when it comes to the Mishkan, Beis Hamikdash, kohanim and shuls, but that in individuals’ private lives simplicity is the ideal. This answer is also not entirely satisfying however. There were tzaddikim like Reb Meir Premishlaner, zy”a, and Rav Uri Strelisker, zy”a, who served Hashem in abject poverty because they viewed this as the ideal. It was known that Reb Uri Strelisker had very few chassidim and that the chassidim he had were as poor as he was. In fact, it was said that when a wealthy person became a chassid of Reb Uri, he soon lost all of his wealth. Perhaps this is why he had so few chassidim.

Many other tzaddikim, however, believed that a Jew should serve Hashem with honor and glory even in his private life. It is known that Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin, zy”a, and Reb Mendeleh Vitebsker, zy”a, lived in this way. In fact, Chazal appear to extol the service of Hashem in wealth as an ideal when they say (Avos 4:9), Anyone who fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth.” It is therefore not so simple to answer that honor and glory only have their place in the Mishkan, Beis Hamikdash, shuls, and kohanim.

We can begin to appreciate the proper nature of the balance between service of Hashem with wealth by studying a teaching of Rebbe Nachman, zy”a. He writes in Likutei Moharan 56:

Every single Jew has an aspect of royalty… And every single person must not use the aspect of royalty for his own benefit and for his own needs. His aspect of royalty must not serve as his slave in order to fulfill his personal cravings. Instead, a person must be a free man… The opposite of the holy aspect of royalty is evil royalty, meaning the kingdom of Haman/Amalek… This is the aspect of the lust for wealth… And to the sinner He has given the matter of gathering and accumulating…” (Koheles 2:26)

We see from Rebbe Nachman’s teachings that for Haman and Achashverosh, wealth was not a means to an end. The accumulation of wealth was an end unto itself. This is why Achashverosh held an enormous feast (Esther 1:4), to show the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty.” And even when Haman’s plans began unraveling, he could not restrain himself (Esther 5:11), And Haman recounted to them the glory of his riches and his many sons…”

Most people in the world (Esther 3:2) bow and prostrate themselves before Haman,” the pursuit of the accumulation of wealth for its own sake. But Mordechai did not bow or prostrate himself” (ibid.). And in the end, it was reversed, the Jews should rule over their enemies” (Esther 9:1). All of Haman’s wealth originally came from Nevuchadnetzer’s conquest of Eretz Yisroel. He derived his wealth from the Jewish people! And ultimately Haman’s fortunes were reversed and his wealth was returned to the Jewish people (Esther 8:1-2). All of the wealth of Haman, of the kingdom of evil, was ultimately returned to the kingdom of holiness and the Jewish people.

We see the wealth of the Jewish people being expelled from the descendants of Haman in recent news as well. As many of the older Nazis, may their names be blotted out, die, their children are selling their property. We therefore see paintings and valuables stolen by the Nazis now emerging in auction houses and sales all over Europe as the kingdom of wickedness is forced to vomit out the wealth they stole from our people.

The inner essence of money is reflected in the fact that the numerical value of the word for money, mamon, is the same as the word ladder, sulam. A ladder (Bereishis 28:12) stands on earth and its top reaches the Heavens.” Money can be used to lift a person up to the heavens or it can cast a person down into the lowest depths of the earth. A person can use his wealth like Mordechai and Esther or like Haman and Achashverosh.

Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch, zt”l, and other tzaddikim explain the reason the Torah disqualifies an animal sacrifice or kohein with even the slightest blemish. Why must they be so perfect? Rav Hirsch explains that the Torah is teaching us that the Torah is not only for those who are defective. It is not a religion for those who cannot do any better. A Jew must understand that the Torah does not demand that a Jew be bent, broken, and weak. The Beis Hamikdash, the kohanim, and the korbanos must reflect the regal nature of our role in the world. Judaism is not only a refuge for the infirm or mentally ill. The Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan must be filled with beauty, splendor, joy, and perfection to show that the service of G-d is the ultimate source of beauty, grace, and fulfillment of the highest order. Every type of person, from the most broken to the most accomplished, has his or her place in Yiddishkeit. But everything in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, the epicenter of the Divine presence on Earth, must be perfect to show that Divine service represents the pinnacle of what a human being can be.

We can now understand why these parshios are read during the Adar, the month of our joy. We must know that service of G-d, as exemplified in the Mishkan, is the ultimate beauty and splendor. But the Torah interjects the story of the Golden Calf into the parshios of the splendor and wealth of the Mishkan. This serves as a warning of the dangers of misusing gold, wealth, and the like. When used in the service of G-d, it is an ideal way of serving G-d. But when used to serve one’s self, when it exists as an end unto itself as it was used by Haman and Achashverosh, it leads a person down into the lowest depths of idolatry.

These parshios teach us the beauty, splendor, and joy of being free people who use wealth for the service of G-d like Esther and Mordechai and not slaves to one’s own desires like Haman and Achashverosh. We must not bow down to the wicked kingdom of Haman that idolizes wealth and the accumulation of luxury as the ultimate accomplishment of life.

Some people specifically choose to serve G-d by avoiding the dangerous test of wealth by living a life of poverty and simplicity. And others’ lot from Heaven is such that they must serve Hashem in a state of poverty. Still others are blessed with wealth or choose to serve G-d with a life of splendor and wealth. All types are part of the Divine plan.

The balance between using one’s wealth for Divine service and being a slave to it is illustrated by a beautiful story about one of the famous Breslov chassidim, Rav Yitzchok Breiter. Rav Breiter was a very successful owner of a shoe factory in Warsaw before the War. Every day in shul he gave a short drasha between Mincha and Maariv. As a dedicated Breslover chassid, he spoke virtually every day about the importance and nature of emunah (belief in G-d), bitachon (trust in G-d), and simcha (serving Hashem with joy). There was one older Yid in shul who listened to these drashos cynically, thinking, It’s easy for Rav Yitzchok to speak about emunah, bitachon, and simcha. He is wealthy and has everything he needs!” This man mentally dismissed Rav Breiter’s drashos and even made fun of his message to others around him.

Unfortunately, Rav Breiter’s factory burned down one day. He lost everything. With more than a little relish, the older man waited for davening that night to see whether Rav Breiter would have as much emunah, bitachon, and simcha as usual now that he was no longer the wealthiest Jew in shul. To his great surprise, Rav Breiter spoke as enthusiastically as ever about how important it is for a Jew to have emunah, bitachon, and simcha. Unable to restrain himself, this Jew walked over to Rav Breiter after davening and asked him, Rabbi, how are you able to speak about faith and trust in Hashem with the same enthusiasm as usual even as the remains of your factory are still burning?”

Rav Breiter answered using a parable. According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 94:8), a person must stand during Shmonah Esrei. The Mishna Berura explains the halacha when one is leaning on something. Is leaning considered standing or is it more comparable to sitting? He explains that if the person is leaning with so much of his weight that if the object were to be removed, he would fall, then it is considered as if he is sitting. If, on the other hand, he is not placing much of his weight on the object such that if it were to be removed, he would remain standing, then it is considered as if he is standing. Rav Breiter explained that it is the same thing with wealth. If a person’s emunah, bitachon, and simcha is dependent on his wealth such that if he were to lose his wealth, he would lose his faith, trust, and joy, then his emunah and bitachon were not real to begin with. If, however, his faith and joy would remain intact even if he would lose his wealth, then this reveals that his faith and trust in Hashem were genuine all along. He explained to the man that he never depended on his wealth for his faith and trust in G-d. Therefore, he did not fall when his support was pulled out from under him.

A Jew must lean” with all of his weight on G-d alone.

May Hashem help all of us believe and trust in Hashem so that we use whatever wealth we have as a means of serving Hashem and not an end in and of itself. And may Hashem return all of the wealth, beauty, splendor, and grace stolen by the nations of the world to their proper place in the hands of the Jewish people so that we may serve Hashem with the glory and splendor of the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash, may we merit it soon in our days.

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