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Chukat-Balak: Wealth Question

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One of the gratifying and beautiful benefits of our work is the feedback we receive from you, our readers. As fascinating as they are diverse your comments, critique, questions, arguments and counterarguments reflect the rich multi-dimensional tapestry of our human race.

Powerful insights emerge from the opinions of large, diverse groups of people. “The wisdom of crowds” is how it has been coined today in a book by the same name (authored by New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki), exploring the idea that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant; they are better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

The aggregative synergy of independent, decentralized opinions has the ability to reveal deeper truths about many issues. Even at its least optimal, the opinions of the masses on the ground definitely expose the state of the human condition, better than any analyst could ever predict from a pedestal (or ivory tower). Analysts, therapists and even marketers and advertisers – and for that matter, educators, clergies and leaders – would do well listening closely to the voice of the people.

Students of human nature are actually students of G-d. There are ways to know the Divine through revelation and holy books. But there is a profound and intimate Divine wisdom that comes from studying our own “flesh” (“from my flesh I behold G-d”) and the natural universe (“how great” and “how many” are Your works).

In this spirit, we are launching a new feature: The Meaningful Question of the Week. Its objective: To pose a timely question – addressing a relevant issue – in order to elicit your responses and comments and those of anyone you pass this question on to. The questions will be culled either from your correspondence with us or from current news and other sources.

Our goal is to create a platform of dialogue for the widest possible audience, to address the most important challenges facing us today.

We therefore invite both your responses as well as suggested questions for future postings. We also encourage you to welcome your friends, associates and anyone you see fit into this ever-widening loop. The more people responding – the greater the synergy and wisdom of the crowds.

WEALTH

As a follow-up to the many responses we received to last week’s article on Givers and Takers, addressing Warren Buffett’s unprecedented charitable commitment, the question for this week is this:

“What does wealth do to families?”

Here are some opinions out there.

The great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie felt that wealth should not be passed on to families. In his 1889 essay “Wealth” (later named “The Gospel of Wealth”) Carnegie wrote:

“The most injudicious” method of disposing of wealth is leaving it to the families of the descendents. “In monarchical countries, the estates and the greatest portion of the wealth are left to the first son, that the vanity of the parent may be gratified by the thought that his name and title are to descend unimpaired to succeeding generations. The condition of this class in Europe today teaches the failure of such hopes or ambitions. The successors have become impoverished through their follies, or from the fall in the value of land. Even in Great Britain the strict law of entail has been found inadequate to maintain an hereditary class. Its soil is rapidly passing into the hands of the stranger. Under republican institutions the division of property among the children is much fairer; but the question which forces itself upon thoughtful men in all lands is, Why should men leave great fortunes to their children. If this is done from affection, is it not misguided affection. Observation teaches that, generally speaking, it is not well for the children that they should be so burdened. Neither is it well for the State. Beyond providing for the wife and daughters moderate sources of income, and very moderate allowances indeed, if any, for the sons, men may well hesitate; for it is no longer questionable that great sums bequeathed often work more for the injury than for the good of the recipients. Wise men will soon conclude that, for the best interests of the members of their families, and of the State, such bequests are an improper use of their means.

“It is not suggested that men who have failed to educate their sons to earn a livelihood shall cast them adrift in poverty. If any man has seen fit to rear his sons with a view to their living idle lives, or, what is highly commendable, has instilled in them the sentiment that they are in a position to labor for public ends without reference to pecuniary considerations, then, of course, the duty of the parent is to see that such are provided for in moderation. There are instances of millionaires’ sons unspoiled by wealth, who, being rich, still perform great services to the community. Such are the very salt of the earth, as valuable as, unfortunately, they are rare. It is not the exception however, but the rule, that men must regard; and, looking at the usual result of enormous sums conferred upon legatees, the thoughtful man must shortly say, “I would as soon leave to my son a curse as the almighty dollar,” and admit to himself that it is not the welfare of the children, but family pride, which inspires these legacies.”

In our own time, Warren Buffett, who just declared the largest charitable pledge ever made, argues that estate taxes should be increased, not eliminated. Mr. Buffett says the estate tax helps build a vibrant economy of innovators and strivers — a true meritocracy — and that repealing it would risk a stunted economy controlled by aristocratic inheritors. Repealing the estate tax, he has said, would be the economic equivalent of “choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.”

Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft and close friend of Mr. Buffett, has not taken a public position on the estate tax, but his father leads the movement to keep it. Few ultrarich families agree, and 18 have spent $500 million since 1994 lobbying for estate tax repeal, according to disclosure records examined by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy, which want to keep the tax.

Almost alone among rich Americans, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates position echoes Carnegies’ philosophy in the abovementioned essay.

What is the Torah opinion?

The Torah specifically states that children inherit the wealth of parents. What would the Torah answer to Carnegie’s arguments, and the facts on the ground, that inherited wealth in most cases does not serve the children well? Clearly, the Torah is speaking about healthy situations in which the bearers of wealth understand that their blessing carries responsibility; they know that it is meant to be shared and they fulfill their charitable obligations of distributing 10% or 20% of their wealth to tzedakah.

But the question is what would the Torah say about wealth that is being hoarded, squandered and/or corrupting and tearing apart families? What about children who do not understand the great responsibility that comes with wealth, and instead become spoiled by their gift?

What do you think?

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sondra maline

As a recently divorced woman who has been deserted by her ex husband and is being given no child support, I do not really have to grapple with the dilemma of what to do with my wealth. I have no wealth. What I do possess is the wherewithal to share whatever I have with whoever needs it. Children should be brought up to recognize the value of work and its fulfillment. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. Money is worth only as much as what you use it for. Use money for beneficial enterprises such as… Read more »

Dr. Robert F. Fischel

Any person who truly lives the Commandment to LOVE THY GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND SOUL & LOVE THEY NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF and who lives THE GOLDEN RULE 24/7 in every thought, intention or action will have no difficuty in handling his/her wealth in the appropriate and most beneficial manner. There is no other, meaningful answer to this strictly, left brained, intellectual question. The only answer can come from the 99% REALM, so well explained in THE POWER of KABBALAH. The question then is: What must we do to remain consciously aware that all our thoughts, intentions and plans… Read more »

Unearned wealth can hurt governments just as much as individuals. Maybe more.

Julio Biler

Charity or inheritance should be studied and decided once you offer an ethical basis of how money should be created. (Blotte=gelt).

Percentages indicated in the Torah should be adapated to modern times and realities.*(even the concept should be restudied)Giving or asking an opinion on money or its distribution in a separate context of the society, where money relationships are created conducts everybody to an obscure path,full of unfair and cynical concepts.

Israel

What a Nation hands down to its people: Is it wealth or poverty, it must be one or the other. Torah and the best case scenario for handing down wealth points out the ability to know where it came from and where it should go. Our Nations Forfathers seem to have surely given that some thought. Today we have lost the vision of what good and noble thing we must hand down to the the emerging people of the Land that will invoke the that things might go well with you clause in G-ds contract for true wealth. The Bohemian… Read more »

Esther Herrick

I suspect that the mass media has very little sympathy toward wealthy people and their spoiled children…Rightfully so.The wealthiest of men and their children should busy themselves with worthy causes…I cant help but being intolerent of homelesness for example…Any very wealthy person could take a city to start with, and make it a model for other cities, states and the world at large by declaring it a zone where homelessness is abolished. We live in a world where the pets of rich people go to psychiatrist and dentist, and the children of Hashem still starve from anger and die in… Read more »

Bennett Blum

One out of six elderly people will become victims of financial exploitation. One out of six. That is the consensus estimate by the top experts in the United States in the field of elder financial abuse as stated during a 2005 policy planning meeting for the White House Conference on Aging. I had the privilege of being one of those invited. Based upon 12 years of experience in this field, I agreed – one out of six, more than 15%, will be victimized. Most of the identified perpetrators are family members (yes, even in frum families) or friends. Families are… Read more »

Zeev

I think that this dilemma is yet another classic example / mistake about religious ideas. Again, we need to divide the religion, per se, from those that observe (or dont observe) it. Clearly, Torahs model for the laws of inheritance is fascinating, enhancing a myriad of good things. How much more can the family grow without all the financial worries? How much more charity can be shared with this inherited wealth? How generous the family can be to their relatives, and friends, in need? How much will the local religious institutions gain by their new philanthropist? So, it seems quite… Read more »

Jonathan Kron

i believe that wealth should be passed down at the parents descretion. if they feel that their children understand the obligations and commitments that come with having great wealth, then the money should be passed down. but if the parents feel that the childrens humanity would be crushed by the weight of the money, then the children should not receive all of the money. if the parents g-d forbid die very early in the childs life (befor being able to observe their childrens traits) then the bulk of the money should be given away to charity, a place where youre… Read more »

John Carey

A government should NEVER be allowed to determine how ones earnings/possessions should be divided. In a perfect world an honest, objective, and responsible parent would make a correct determination. Being that this is not a perfect world, and many parents really do not care enough to make the right decision we must live with the consequences. There are going to be some horror stories. But PLEASE!!!… Giving a government the right to tax away, arbitrarily, an inheritance based on a nanny… I know better whats good for you attitude is an infinitly worse evil. If we prayerfully strive to instill… Read more »

Jack Bloom

I think as with most social questions a balance should be achieved. I concur that education and meritocracy must be the root of society – not inherited wealth – and an estate tax serves as a good leveler. But surely a motivation to make money is to provide for your family for the long run – eliminating this through a giant tax would hurt the animal spirits which drive economic achievement. If Gates, Buffet and Carnegie dont want to give money to their children – that is their option – but they dont have the right to impose that on… Read more »

Bracha Ahuva Judith

My Dear Brother Simon,

I awake on Fridays, and think, Today is erev Shabbat, and I will hear from Simon, and a smile crosses my face. What is it that I receive from Simon that brings a light to my soul? It is the deep sense of humility that is within this mans heart, which I so desperately lack. His essence shines on me and I know immediately where I need to repent. Thank you for having a soul that refuses to leave mine in darkness without saying a word, just by BEING.

Shabbat Shalom,
Bracha Ahuva Judith

Larry Stack

The question is too narrow if we describe wealth as just money. It is really what a family trains children to bond in. My family was not of a wealthy nature monetarily, but they thought they were wealthy because they believed in ethics and ideas. However, we were not given wealth about dignity in ourselves for just this sake. This resulted in always an insecurity about my true meaning/mission in life. Wealth whether monetary or any other ways that is in anyway subjective forces one to bond to something other than their true self. The sad part about this type… Read more »

yossi lew

The Gemara in Brochos talks about a son who upon inheriting a field from his father did not appropriate the correct amounts of Tzedakah from its produce. The field declined each year, as the Tzedakah did. We see that inheritance is, indeed, the way Torah wants things to happen, coupled, though, with the appropriate behavior.

Stanley Gornish

Wealth provides an additional opportunity to bring out the very best or worst in its recipient.

Rowna Sutin

I think that if parents have a large financial estatel, there is nothing wrong with leaving the heirs with a gift. However, a large gift, one that could potentially change a lifestyle can be a larger burden that leaving no gift. With wealth comes responsibility. When you have earned you money you know how precious it is and that the ability to earn it yourself increases your awareness of its true value. Lets say you leave each child one million dollars – do you know how it would effect them? Would they quit their jobs and loaf around? Would they… Read more »

Itzchuk Mandelberg

The Masses Are Asses– letting them determine their own fate surely will lead them to ruin. We need leaders with vision to go beyond comfort and safety to move us forward.
So says God = me! (And you are too!!)