8/27/2019

The Morality of Wealth

"In this view, poverty is not a virtue nor wealth a vice. The only individual in the Torah denied the right to amass a fortune on principle is the king, in whose hands it can so readily lead to a perversion of power. At best the prophetic tradition tolerates a limited monarch subject to the dictates of divine law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

As for the rest of us, Judaism tries to persuade us that money ought not to be an ultimate value in our lives, but rather a force for doing good in the lives of others. Thus the Talmud (which does have a well developed notion of an afterlife) informs us that the very first question to be put to us when we stand before the Almighty to account for our lives deals with our worldly affairs. "Did you conduct your financial matters with integrity?" is clearly a formulation that undervalues the bottom line.

So is the second question that awaits us in the heavenly court: "Did you set aside time on a regular basis to study Torah?" The good life is a matter of balance. To devote all our waking hours singlemindedly to making money is to shrink the purpose and potential of our lives. The third question aims at the same end: "Did you raise a family?" And often the Talmud urges us in other passages to realize that wealth is not a matter of money but of mind: the truly rich are those who are satisfied with what they have."