Finances, the subject of the primordial curse and current events from time immemorial, is the subject of this week’s article. What is the Torah’s prescription for maintaining financial stability? We all work hard, but how hard is too hard? And when does proper hard work turn to a loathsome money-lust? What is the Torah’s outlook on unearned money such as winning a lottery? Of this and more, in this week’s article.
In this week’s parashah, we find the tribes of Reuven and Gad asking Moshe to receive their portion of the Holy Land on the eastern side of the Jordan. “The descendants of Reuven and Gad had an abundance of livestock very numerous and they saw the land of Yazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was ideal for livestock” (Bamidbar 32:1). The land was prime pastureland and they wanted it for themselves.
A Hastily Acquired Inheritance
Rashi refers to this request in his commentary on the passuk in Mishlei (20:21): “An inheritance that is acquired hastily in the beginning, will not be blessed in the end”: Who hastened to take hurriedly — the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuven, who hastened to take their share on the other side of the Jordan, and they spoke hastily, as it is said (Bamidbar 32:16): “We want to build sheepfolds for our cattle here and cities for our children.”
The results of their premature request was premature exile: they were exiled from their lands many years before the rest of the tribes: “In the second year of Ahaz, the Lord aroused the desire of the king of Assyria…” (Divrei Hayomim I 5:26) while the rest of the tribes were exiled in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which is the ninth year of Hoshea the son of Elah.
Shlomo Hamelech allows us an insight into quickly earned property. Reuven and Gad who received their portion quickly, lost it at the same speed. This kind of acquisition does not remain with its owners and is unblessed.
Often, we hear of people who earned a windfall and lost it in the same speed, losing many other facets of their life on the way. This phenomenon is so common that it earned the name “the Lottery Curse”. How can we steer away from these kind of acquisitions, and what can we do to preserve our money?
Levels of Importance
To fully understand the concept of a hastily acquired inheritance, we must first take a deeper look at Reuven and Gad’s request. Rashi explains that they made a double mistake in their request: a. they requested their portion before it was time to distribute the portions of the land, and b. they asked to build sheepfolds for the cattle before cities for their children.
The Midrash (Tanchuma, Matos, 7; Bamidbar Raba 22:9) explains this further:
“A wise man’s heart is to his right,” (Koheles 10:2) that is the good impulse; “but a fool’s heart is to his left,” that is the evil impulse. Another interpretation: “A wise man’s heart is to his right,” that is the righteous who put their hearts to Torah which is from the right…; “but a fool’s heart is to his left,” that is the evildoers who put their hearts to becoming rich… Another interpretation: “A wise man’s heart is to his right,” that is Moshe; “but a fool’s heart is to his left,” that is the Children of Reuven and the Children of Gad, who made the essential, secondary, and the secondary, essential. Why? Because they loved their possessions more than the [human] souls. As they said to Moshe (Bamidbar 32:16), “‘We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks, and towns for our children.'” Moshe said to them, “This is mistaken; rather make the essential, essential. First ‘build towns for your children,’ and afterwards ‘sheepfolds for your flocks’ (Bamidbar 32:24).” Hence, “A wise man’s heart is to his right,” that is Moshe; “but a fool’s heart is to his left,” that is the Children of Reuven and the Children of Gad. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, “You loved your money more than [your] souls. By your lives, there is no blessing in this, as stated (Mishlei 20:21), ‘An estate acquired in haste at the outset will not outset will not be blessed in the end.'” And it likewise states (Mishlei 23:4), “Do not toil to gain wealth; have the sense to desist.”
Never forget what comes first. Lives always matter more than possessions, reminds Moshe rabbenu. Ba’al Hakeida (Matos, Sha’ar 85) explains that while financial stability is a necessary component for service of Hashem, one must never forget it is merely a tool, not a goal. When one’s heart is pulled to the left, i.e. towards fulfillment of his physical desires, anything he does in the world will be directed to that goal, but a wise person whose “heart is on the right” directs his desires to matters of holiness. Although both may engage in the exact same activities the one aiming to the right will be rewarded with blessing. One who sees money, prosperity and property as a means for fulfilling his obligating in the world and not a goal in and of itself, will find blessing in his fortune.
In the wording that the Tribes of Gad and Reuven used for their request they gave expression to their hearts’ leanings. In mentioning their livestock before their children, they disclosed that acquisitions were not the means but an end for them. This kind of perverted value system is the sign of a fool, whose finances will not remain with him.
In his answer, Moshe corrects their value system: “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep…” (Bamidbar 32:24).
Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor
The above-mentioned Midrash ends with a somewhat surprising conclusion:
And it likewise states (Mishlei 23:4), “Do not toil to gain wealth; have the sense to desist.” And who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot, as stated (in Tehilim 128:2), “You shall eat the produce of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”
The two quotes seem to contradict each other. Should one work hard and enjoy the fruits of his labor, or should he desist? These two psukim contain the secret for wealth-preservation. But to fully appreciate it, we must first understand what a hastily acquired inheritance is, and how it works its detrimental effect.
Ralbag (Mishlei 20:21) explains that no blessing can be found in money that came without toil. ‘Easy earned is easy lost’ says the famous adage. Without hard work, money loses its value in the eyes of its owner and he makes inadequate efforts to preserve it. Many have lost large inheritances in failed investments.
Ralbag here adds an interesting comment. Wisdom, like money, is an acquired asset. People who look for shortcuts in acquiring wisdom, even if they do achieve a form of knowledge, will find no blessing in it.
Similarly, the Malbim explains here that there is no blessing in money that came by means of inheritance or a find. Only money earned with hard work is blessed.
In addition, money that comes to a person prematurely is likewise unblessed. Efforts to earn money before the time one is destined to acquire it cannot bring blessings.
A hastily acquired inheritance has both disadvantages. It is an inheritance that one didn’t earn by the sweat of his brow, and it is brought on prematurely. Obviously, this kind of asset will not be blessed.
Eventually, the tribes of Gad and Reuven realized their mistake. When they entered the land along with the other tribes and saw Eretz Yisroel in all its glory, they were sorry for their hasty choice and read the following passuk on themselves: “Better is a handful of ease than two handfuls of toil and frustration” (Koheles 4:6) – Better a handful of ease – in Eretz Yisroel, than two handfuls of toil and frustration – in their portion on the eastern side of the Jordan. But by then it was too late to change their minds.
‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours in yours, and nothing can change that’ is a well-known mussar concept used to combat envy. Nobody can take money that was destined for someone else, therefore financial worry is unwarranted. The extent of this truth can be illustrated from the following story mentioned in the Gemara (Yoma 38a):
The Sages taught in a baraita: The craftsmen of the House of Garmu were expert in the preparation of the lechem hapanim, and they did not want to teach others the secret of its production. The Sages dismissed them and sent for and brought craftsmen from Alexandria in Egypt, a large city with many experts. Those craftsmen knew how to bake like the members of the House of Garmu did, but they did not know how to remove the bread from the oven like they did. … When the Sages heard of the matter that the bread of the imported craftsmen was of lower quality than before, they said: Whatever the Holy One, Blessed be He, created, He created in His honor, as it is stated: “Everyone who is called by My name, I have created for My glory” (Yeshaya 43:7). In deference to G-d, the Sages should diminish their honor for the greater glory of G-d and let the House of Garmu return to their original station. The Sages sent for them to reassume their previous position, and they did not come. They doubled their wages and they came. Each day until then they would take wages of twelve maneh, and today they take wages of twenty-four maneh. Rabbi Yehuda says: Each day they took twenty-four maneh, and today they take forty-eight.”
The Garmu family received an enormous salary — according to Rabbi Yehuda up to 48 maneh every day. Chazal state elsewhere that a person needs two maneh to live for a year. This family earned what one person needs for 12 or 24 years, every single day! How do Chazal explain their extraordinary wealth?
“Everyone who is called by My Name, I have created for My glory.” Rabbenu Chananel explains this passuk: if Hashem gave someone wisdom to do something it is so that job should be done by whomever Hashem destined it to be done.
Ben Azzai learned from here that one should never be concerned that others might usurp his livelihood and success, since at the appropriate moment, “by your name they shall call you to return to your previous position, and in your place, they shall seat you, and from your own they shall give you”. Everyone has a portion designated for him by G-d, and the individual is privileged to receive what is coming to him. No person may touch that which is prepared for another; everyone receives what is designated for him. And “one reign does not overlap with another and deduct from the time allotted it even a hairbreadth.” When the time comes for one kingdom to fall, its successor takes over immediately, as no king rules during the time designated for another.
The Chofetz Chaim (Shmiras Halashon part 1) learns from this Gemara that we are required to pace our faith in Hashem. Even when one sees his competitor succeed — if one places his faith in Hashem he will come to the realization that his competitor cannot take something that belongs to him. Therefore, explains the Chofetz Chaim, slandering a competitor has no place in Jewish commerce.
A worker knows that Hashem brings plenty through the means of toil, and his work is but a pipeline enabling G-d’s blessings to rain down on him. Therefore, tzedakah and setting aside time for Torah study doesn’t faze a Jew. Hashem will surely not withhold blessing from a person who fulfills His will.
This should be clear in our minds when we see people who seem to be earning well, despite their not giving tzedakah or designating time for regular Torah study. This kind of money carries with it no blessings and does not allow its earner the pleasure of enjoying his plenty.
The author of the Binyamin Ze’ev reprimands the residents of a city who instituted certain guidelines to prevent competition in the markets. He proves his point from this Talmudic excerpt, and rebukes the residents for hating their competitors out of fear of losing their own livelihoods.
To maintain balance between hishtadlus and bitachon in relation with parnassa, keeping the eye on the goal is crucial – money should be used to serve us in our spiritual pursuits, and not the opposite. We are charged to work and enjoy the fruits of our labor — try to earn a living but not go overboard with that effort. It must be done in a halachically sound manner, with no anxiety and hastiness. Then, whatever income earnd will bring with it blessing – joy and peace, knowing that whatever one has is what he needs for his journey in the world, and if Hashem thinks he needs more, he will be sent that. One must make the effort, go to work and do it well. Then, the results will bring him joy and he can rejoice in his lot.
The Gemara (Sota 9b) describes various characters who lost what they had because of jealousy – coveting that which is not theirs.
The primeval serpent seduced Eve, for he placed his eyes on that which was unfit for him, as he wanted to marry Eve. Consequently, that which he desired was not given to him, and that which was in his possession was taken from him. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I initially said that the snake will be king over every domesticated animal and non-domesticated animal, but now he is cursed more than all the domesticated animals and all the non-domesticated animals of the field, as it is stated: “And the Lord G-d said unto the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Bereshis 3:14).
The baraita explains that as a result of his jealousy, the serpent lost not only what he had hoped to gain, but also what was already his. Many other historic characters hoped to take that which was undeserving to them, with dire results:
And so we found with regard to Kayin, who desired to inherit the whole world alone (Bereshis 4); Korach, who desired the priesthood (Bamidbar 16); Bila’am, who desired Balak’s money (Bamidbar 22); Doeg, who was jealous of David (Shmuel I 21–22); Achithophel, who was also jealous of David (Shmuel II 16); Gechazi, who took Naaman’s money (Melachim II 5); Avsalom, who wanted the kingdom (Shmuel II 15); Adoniyah, who also wanted the kingdom (Melachim I 1); Uzziah, who wanted to be the High Priest (Divrei Hayomim II 26); and Haman, who wanted to kill all the Jews (Esther 3:13). All of these were people who placed their eyes on that which was not for them, and consequently not only what they desired was not given to them, but even what they had was taken from them.
Strength, beauty and wisdom are gifts and a blessing when they are G-d given. On the other hand, for one who takes these by force they are the cause of untold anguish and loss.
This, explains the Midrash, was where the tribes of Gad and Reuven fell short. The Sefas Emes (Masei) and Shem Mishmuel (Matos) explain that the fertile farmlands on the eastern banks of the Jordan were actually intended for Reuvan and Gad. Had they waited to receive them from Hashem they would have been fully sanctified, and they would have remained. But after they requested them before the time was ripe, they saw no blessing in their lands.
Winning the Lottery
The Minchas Eliezer writes that while in general one is forbidden to give more than one-fifth of his earnings to tzedakah, this rule does not apply to money that came without toil. He proves this point from the laws of a convert’s inheritance: the estate of a convert who dies without leaving heirs is hefker. The Gemara (Eiruvin 64a) advises one who landed such assets to use them for writing a Sefer Torah as a merit to preserve the assets. Rashi explains that property that came to a person effortlessly carries within it an inherent danger of loss. Therefore, one should spend some of the money on objects of a mitzva, as a merit for the rest to remain his own. The Gemara adds to the list of effortless earnings dowries, findings, and even a windfall in business. The Minchas Eliezer writes that it is obvious that one should give more to tzedakah from earnings that came effortlessly as opposed to regular money, in this case even beyond the proscribed one-fifth.
Earning a lottery can certainly be labeled ‘a hastily acquired in heritance’, so one who wants to ward off “the lottery curse” should give a large portion of his winnings to tzedakah so these earnings, too, should be a blessing to him, and they will remain his own.
One is most certainly obligated to make an effort to make a parnassa and enjoy the fruits of his labor while at the same time place his faith in Hashem, Who ‘provided, provides and will provide” him with all his needs. For this reason, one should always make sure his money is earned honestly, never refrain from giving tzedakah and set aside regular times for Torah study. One must never make excessive efforts for his parnassa, act rashly or hastily to try and make more. When we rejoice in our lot and know that we have all that we need for completing our mission in life, we will not be tempted by jealously and greed. When the time is ripe we will receive what is rightly coming to us.
Winning the jackpot sounds tempting, but money gotten easily can be easily lost, more than any other monies. Therefore, as an extra precaution against losing one’s money, it is proper to use this kind of income for a mitzva, spending more than one would with his regular income as a merit for financial preservation.
Lastly, one must never forget that even if the beginning looks hard, never forget the passuk (Iyov 8:7) “And your beginning shall be small, but your end shall increase exceedingly.”