PURIM — One of the many fascinating subplots of Purim is the human relationship with wealth. Throughout the Megillah we find references to money and riches – both as virtue and vice.
The Megillah begins with Persian King Achashveirosh displaying:
“The glorious wealth of his kingdom and the splendorous beauty of his majesty.” (Esther 1:4)
“There were hangings of white, green and blue, held by cords of linen and purple wool to silver rods and marble pillars. There were divans of gold and silver on a floor of alabaster and marble [arranged in patterns of] rows and circles. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of assorted design, and the royal wine was in abundance as befitting the king.” (1:6-7)
When wicked Haman presented Achashveirosh with his treacherous plot to massacre the entire Jewish people, he offers to:
“Pay ten thousand silver talents to the workers, for deposit in the king’s treasuries.” (3:9)
Achashveirosh then gave over his signet ring to Haman and told him that he could keep his money and do with the people as he wished (3:11). Haman later boasted about his great wealth (5:11).
The decree included plundering the property of the Jews (3:13). And when the terrible decree was finally reversed and Achashveirosh issued a new edict declaring the victory of the Jews over their enemies he again included their right to plunder the property of the enemy (8:11). Indeed, Achashveirosh gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman (8:1).
However, despite these victories, the Jews did not take any of the spoils (9:10; 15; 16). Instead, they celebrated Purim through gifts of food and money (9:19; 22).
The Megillah also emphasizes the celebration of victory in terms of wealth:
“Mordechai left the king’s presence wearing a royal garment of blue and white, a large golden crown, and a shawl of fine linen and purple wool. And the city of Shushan celebrated and rejoiced.” (8:15)
Earlier, the miracle of Purim begins with describing in detail how Achashveirosh honored Mordechai with wealthy pomp and circumstance. Indeed, it is Haman who actually suggested how best to reward a man whom the king wishes to honor (mistakenly thinking that the king wanted to reward him):
“Let them bring a royal garment that the king has worn, and a horse upon which the king has ridden, and upon whose head the royal crown has been placed. And let the garment and the horse be entrusted in the hands of one of the king’s noble ministers, and they shall dress the man whom the king wishes to honor and lead him on the horse through the city square, proclaiming before him, ‘So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” (6:8-9)
When Queen Esther appealed to the king to reverse his decree, the king offered her “half the kingdom” (5:3; 6; 7:2). Half but not all.
Even when Esther argued before Achasveirosh to foil Haman’s plot she described it in financial terms:
“I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and wiped out. If we had only been sold as slaves and maidservants I would have kept quiet. But our oppressor does not care about the loss to the king.” (7:4)
Finally King Achashveirosh levied a tax upon the mainland and the islands of the sea (10:1).
2361 years have passed since these events transpired. How much has really changed regarding human attitudes toward wealth? Not much it seems. It would make a fascinating study to derive from the above referenced passages a deeper understanding of the nature of economics and the human pursuit of money, its uses and its misuses and ultimately its redemption.
All this demonstrates the power of wealth to corrupt but also to build, and the ability we have to harness and transform this enormous force from vice into great virtue.
Above all, as we celebrate Purim and we break out of all our boundaries, we should always remember: The final litmus test of true transcendence is the way we deal with our money and assets – whether we know how to give as much, if not more, than we take; whether we are able to recognize the means from the end; and whether we control our wealth or it controls us.
We hereby bring you the fifth and final part of Money and Spirituality, a paper that explores the power of wealth.
All of us at the MLC bless you with an exuberant and transcendental Purim.
OUR FUTURE ECONOMY: A NEW MODALITY FOR WEALTH AND PHILANTHROPY
In reviewing history in retrospect, a pattern of economic structural evolution emerges. Initially, economies were driven and controlled by the few in power – monarchies, the serf system etc. The birth of the free market heralded the dominance of individuality and private ownership with markets being driven by competition. Marx correctly zeroed in on the flaws of capitalism – the abuse of individual power – without really offering a viable economic alternative.
In an imperfect world, everyone, even dissenters, contribute toward crystallizing a vision of a working system – fine tuning and shaping it till we realign the distortions. [In this context it can be argued that Marxist and socialist This holds true for the critique on religion in the 19th century, including Marx’s theories. They help expose the flaws in distorted religious systems and mans’ subjective interpretations of G-d. And they help set the stage for a mature and integrated relationship with the Divine.] Thought as well as capitalist philosophy, are all part of an economic evolution, leading up to a new perfected model. Just as Korach’s rebellion helped shape and define the true nature of Torah’s class system, so too, Marxist theory helps us address the faults of our existing system. Marx’s criticism and insight enables us to modify and reshape capitalism addressing the misery and alienation of our existing economy in order for us to correct it, and align the world to its initial intention pre-tree of knowledge.
Today we stand at the threshold of a new economic paradigm, one that allows us the luxury of the accumulative trial and error of the past, while introducing new elements made possible only recently. Critical changes today point to the possibility of creating a ‘new economy’ in the spirit of the Torah model.
· Spiritual hunger
· Convergence of matter and spirit
· Accelerated production
· New business models: cooperation vs. competition; specialization vs. monopoly
Prosperity and Spiritual Hunger
Today we stand at a time of unprecedented prosperity. At the same time there also exists an unprecedented spiritual void, which continues to widen the schism between our material success and our spiritual hunger.
According to the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings cited above this should not come as a surprise. Our growing demand for acquisition of material wealth actually reflects a deep craving for the ‘energy’ and ‘sparks’ within this wealth. Hence, the wealthier we become, the deeper the anxiety and restlessness for not finding relief by utilizing the true purpose of this wealth. The stronger our grip on the material, the deeper our need for the spiritual within.
Indeed, the prophet Amos tells us:
“Days are coming, when I will send a great hunger and thirst in the world. But the hunger will be not for bread and the thirst not for water, but for the word of G-d.”1
The Bible itself assures us that: “It is not on bread alone that man lives, but on the word of G-d,” which s the divine spark within. 2
Technology and the Convergence of Matter and Spirit
In every area of developing technologies, we are witnessing the convergence of matter and spirit. The Zohar tells us 3 that the proliferation of science beginning in 1840 (approximately the time of the Industrial Revolution) and accelerating at greater speeds ever since, is a prelude to a “world filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.” 4
The stage has been set. The final frontier is achieving unity in our own personal lives – integrating the work we do and the wealth we acquire with the purpose of our existence. Bridging our outer and our inner lives.
The final frontier of integrating matter and spirit is the integration of wealth and religion. Because wealth represents all that is material, its transformation into spiritual fuel is critical in the complete synthesis of matter and spirit.
Maimonides writes that the Messianic age does not necessitate miraculous or cataclysmic external change. The primary change will be from within; a radical shift of consciousness. Instead of seeing materialism as an end in itself, we will see it as a means to “knowing G-d.” This consciousness will affect our economic view. As Maimonides puts it: “Material delights will be found as dust,” which also means that the abundance of material wealth will render it valueless as dust and useless as an end unto itself. This in turn will naturally eliminate envy and competition, hunger, poverty and strife.
“The business of this entire world will be to know G-d.” 5
This does not mean that all will be theologians. It means that everyone, in his/her particular profession and expertise, will perceive G-d in all that we do. 6 A physician will study, recognize and teach us the beauties of the Divine within human anatomy and physiology. A physicist will demonstrate the parallels of Divine unity and the unity within the structure of nature. A businessperson will glean wisdom in comparing the models of business structure with the business of the cosmos.
Wealth, in short, will finally realize its true value: soul energy, elevating and transforming all of existence.
The Mishkan was a model in microcosm for this social and economic structure. The 40 years in the desert provided a controlled and self-sufficient environment, without the challenges of supply and demand of a functioning economy this was in order to nurture a working model in a controlled setting. However, the ultimate goal was to enter the promised land – a land that can consume its inhabitants – and face the challenge of materialism. The challenge remains to create the Mishkan economic model in the real world, ultimately leading to our times today – when we have the possibility to actualize this new model universally and globally.
We will enter the new economic age with the wealth of the past, with “their silver and gold with them,” 7 but with a new attitude.
Our present challenge is to create a transition from the old economy to the new one. The challenge is twofold:
We are accustomed to an old economic paradigm. What would happen, for instance, if we were to realize that so much wealth has been generated that it is as ‘plentiful as dust’?! Would we want to accept such a possibility? Or would human greed not allow such a consideration?
We see wealth as a measure of self worth and security. By giving it away we see ourselves as becoming less. Is it conceivable that those with more will be ready to just share willingly, or would their insecurity not allow them to?
The only answer, I submit, is introducing the Torah model for life in general, and wealth and philanthropy in particular: As opposed to Marxian theory, that man is a product of his environment, 8 the Torah’s faith in a human being is absolute. You, man were created in the Divine Image. Your inherent nature is divine. Selfishness and greed is superimposed by a material world created by G-d – a world that allows for all the economic classes to divide us – in order to allow us the opportunity to be wise and pierce the false veneer, and recognize the true Divine nature of wealth and power, and in effect use it for its intended purpose. When human consciousness is raised and we feel that our security and value does not come from a mercurial physical world but from within, from your Divine soul, we can then exchange the ‘teddy bears’ of our material security blankets with a true and eternal self esteem.
Inevitably this will change our attitude and use of wealth.
Perhaps one can say that the Torah’s futuristic economy will be an elegant synthesis of a free economy choosing to behave in some way like a socialist one, with the key distinction being, that the collective sharing will come from within, self initiated rather than imposed. Recognizing the true nature of wealth will drive men to create systems that will honor and express the inner purpose of our wealth: creating a home for G-d. We will begin to see the acquisition of wealth as a means for spiritual growth, for understanding ourselves and G-d, for filling the world with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.
Practically speaking, for this new economic paradigm to take hold we must create educational materials and practical programs that introduce and engender into our children and our adults the deeper meaning of wealth. This then needs to translate into a methodology: how to give charity, how to make your home and workplace a more giving place. An example would be to prominently place a charity box on your office desk and in your room.
“Theory becomes a material force when it has gripped the masses,” writes Marx 9 Awareness comes first, action follows. Think and act conscientiously, and we begin to create a shift, a change. Torah believes that redemption is a process: each charitable act today is a building block, that accumulates with all those before and after, with all generations past, creating a nuclear force that must ultimately surface.
Wealth without its spirit, is the world in which we live in today. Wealth with its spirit is the economy of tomorrow.
We stand at a unique and exciting threshold. How will we do?
- Amot 8:11. ↩
- Deuteronomy 8:3. See Likkutei Torah and Shaar HaMitzvot (R. Isaac Luria) on the verse. ↩
- Volume 1, 117a. ↩
- Isaiah 11:9. Rambam, end of Mishne Torah. ↩
- Rambam ibid. ↩
- Proverbs 3:6. ↩
- Isaiah 60:9. ↩
- It is not the consciousness of men that determine their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (ibid). ↩
- Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844). ↩