The paradox of money.
The Golden Calf. The Holy Temple built of gold.
Wealth – is it a blessing or a curse?
Capitalism has been criticized for its underlying core:
Success driven by selfish gain. We have witnessed, especially
lately, the consequences of greed turned into mass corporate
corruption. But is there a better viable economic system?
These week’s Torah portions address the paradoxical
qualities of wealth. Indeed, the contributions to the temple
were, according to some, “atonement for your souls” for
building the Golden Calf.
We bring you here part one of a comprehensive paper
offering and in-depth analysis of money in the context of
From the earliest times, wealth and religion
have existed in mutually exclusive and seemingly incompatible
spheres. Wealth and the process of its acquisition epitomizes
”self” and “self interest,” while
religion in its ultimate expression embodies selflessness.
The acquisition of wealth draws one down into one’s
baser drives while religion channels man’s drives
upward toward the sublime and the spiritual.
Yet, however tenuous their relationship, both
wealth and religion seem necessary components in ensuring
man’s spiritual and physical survival on earth. Reconciling
these two forces has challenged man from the beginning of
Whether wealth is viewed as virtue or vice depends
not just on man’s attitude, nature, and intentions,
but on an objectified analysis of the roots and underlying
nature of wealth.
In modern times, two major economic models have
impacted on the present global economic structure. I will
briefly contrast the socialist and capitalist models and
finally balance them with a Torah model.
No one in history has influenced social and
economic reform more than Karl Marx, whose socialist models
and scathing critique of religious and economic systems
have worldwide ramifications. Marx defines wealth
and religion in negative terms: both are outside forces
alienating man from his true self. This paper will use Marx’s
philosophical insights as a springboard to demonstrate
that wealth and religion are neither external nor alienating
to man, but are truly inner forces. When appreciated as
such, they assist man to integrate with his inner self.
Marx’s conclusions are accurate in reacting
to G-d, religion and wealth as they were perceived and experienced
in his times, as well as today. However, when looking at
G-d and wealth in its pristine form – as an inner spiritual
force – all of Marx’s arguments fall away and we emerge
with an elegant model of wealth as an internal force, helping
man actualize his true self.
Capitalism, on the other hand, does not argue
the alienation factor and the inherent greed in the pursuit
of wealth, it simply accepts this as a necessary evil, the
only way to motivate labor. Capitalism is in effect a form
of resignation, or “rationalization” (in the
great sociologist Max Weber’s words), that tries to
make the best of life’s presenting conditions. Marx
at least recognized the faults in capitalism and demanded
a better system, a better world. He opens our eyes to the
fact that selfish capitalism is simply inadequate and cannot
endure, yet he does not offer a viable alternative.
The stage having thus been set, Torah offers
us the working alternative to these two manmade economic
models. By demonstrating the “inner” power of
wealth and religion described in Torah (and Chassidus, its
mystical dimension), we can embrace a new paradigm in the
acquisition of wealth, fueled by its spiritual energy, hence
creating a system that not only validates the individual
drive for wealth, but shows it as a necessary step in its
ultimate stage: as a tool for man’s contribution to
the common good.
This paper will demonstrate – from a Torah
perspective – how wealth reflects the sheer spiritual
power behind all that is valuable in this material universe,
and thus offers us the greatest opportunity to transform
the world. This paper will present the Torah’s revolutionary
approach to wealth and offer a blueprint for utilizing wealth
in new ways.
Money. Everyone needs it, everyone wants it, and everyone
is influenced by it. For good or for bad, no one is oblivious
to or unaffected by wealth.
Is wealth virtue or vice? Much has been written on the
topic. On one hand, man cannot exist or function without
material resources. Great institutions and technologies
could not have been built without enormous financial investment.
On the other hand, we have seen the noxious, corruptive
power of wealth, and its ability to compromise even the
purest ideals. The physical and psychological destruction
created by the power of wealth has wreaked havoc on families,
businesses, and countries. Battles over fortunes have destroyed
Philosophers, economists and political scientists throughout
history have focused on the meaning and significance of
money, its effects on a society, the inherent greed in human
nature, and how to build a human co-existing community within
the context of financial competition.
Socialist economics contends that we must battle the inequality
of the classes and create a collective pool, eliminating
private ownership and infusing society with a utopian sense
of commonness and sharing. Only this, the socialist argument
goes, will free man from the exploitation and alienation
inherent in the capitalist system. 
The free market economy system, in contrast, argues the
futility of trying to change man’s inherent greed,
individuality and competitive nature. Rather, it maintains,
we must harness these forces and channel them into effective
and productive growth, within rules, parameters and incentives
that offer equal opportunity and charitable endeavors, while
fostering healthy competition and rewarding individual contributions
and the efforts and investments of the driven wealthy. 
Many spiritual schools of thought maintain that wealth
is synonymous with the worship of wealth,
thus rendering it an inherent evil: the “golden calf”
that impedes man’s way to find peace, truth, and happiness.
Wealth is diametrically opposed to the spiritual journey.
The Mishnah warns “Increasing possessions, increases
anxiety.”  Hence, spiritual
disciplines preach and dictate the need for man to turn
away from the pursuit of riches and transcend to another
plane of reality; to “rise above” the bourgeois
crassness of materialism and embrace the more rarified atmosphere
of the sublime. Indeed, in some religious systems, poverty
is often seen as a virtue.
Given the many social and religious systems that vilify
wealth, the title of this paper may appear to be an oxymoron:
With the perception of wealth as evil, the argument could
be made that religion is not meant to enhance or form an
alliance with wealth, but rather to counterbalance the necessary
evil which is wealth and its inevitable negative effects.
Is there an essential connection between wealth and religion
that not only allows them to coexist but fuses them at their
core? Charity, for example, as dictated by religious doctrine,
is meant to tame and somewhat redeem our selfish natures
through giving. But is this really an effective remedy for
the “evils” of wealth, or merely a deterrent?
The power of wealth, when unleashed, can be used for either
great achievement or mass destruction, depending on the
ethical nature and intentions of the person wielding the
wealth. Not surprisingly, there remain varying and even
contradicting philosophical approaches toward wealth.
Can we ever hope to create a better system? Can we expect
to create a system that synthesizes and harnesses the benefits
of both capitalism and socialism? Can we overcome the inherent
selfishness of capitalism without undermining the benefits
of competition and personal initiative? Can we create a
system of equality while maintaining and respecting the
power and character of individuality?
That which lies at the heart of the role of wealth in context
of religion leads us to fundamental questions regarding
the very consciousness of man and the nature and consequences
of human individuality and its drives for success and power.
How we see wealth and money teaches tells us how we see
ourselves, power and our very essential drives. To get a
portrait, snapshot of a society we need to study its attitude
to wealth and affluence. Money is a metaphor for life. In
and of itself, it is simply a means to transfer our neuroses,
fears, power needs.
Any endorsement or even condoning of wealth implies an
equal acceptance of inherent individuality. According to
Marx, this would imply an acceptance of inherent greed,
which is an inevitable result of individuality. Marx clearly
and powerfully demonstrated the flaws of capitalism, the
abuse of individual empowerment (which explains the seduction
of so many intellectuals to his philosophy).
The desire to acquire, to have more than others, create
a sense of security against external forces out of our control.
Ultimately the issue comes down to the origins of wealth,
the understanding of inherent human nature and consciousness
and man’s aspiration and drive for affluence, wealth
and power. What lies at the heart of all these forces?
All existing economic templates and systems are based on
certain given attitudes to wealth, certain constants, founded
upon pre-existing experiences and the historical use and
abuse of wealth. A new economic blueprint can emerge only
if we discover a new understand of wealth and its driving
forces. In order to do so, we must identify its essential
core, and not just its symptoms.
The ultimate goal of any research should be to: find a
new understanding of wealth, that reaches deeper into its
core, which would then result in a new approach and attitude
to wealth, and in turn allow us to create a new economic
model and blueprint. For as long as we continue to look
at wealth in context of pre-existing attitudes, we can perhaps
come up with new variations, even radically different ones,
yet all within the prevailing context. A new perspective,
that challenges all previous axioms, allows us the opportunity
to develop and cultivate a new approach.
This paper is predicated on the principle that the wisdom
of the Torah (Bible) offers us just that opportunity: empowering
us with the ability to pierce the surface levels of any
given topic and reveal its core root. This provides us with
the ability and tools to develop a system and strategy that
will enable us to see and use wealth in a new way.
This paper will demonstrate that Torah offers us a revolutionary
approach to wealth, and to establishing a ‘new’
economy. By delving into and appreciating the origins of
its power, we can transform wealth into a divine (sublime)
force that plays an integral role in the unfolding of
the human drama and its search for fulfillment. The Torah’s
approach gives us a brilliant perspective on wealth, which
takes into account and encompasses all the different and
opposing elements and approaches to wealth and human nature,
while providing us with a working economic model and a practical
blueprint for implementation.