This Purim, as I fundraised in Lakewood, I witnessed the true greatness of Klal Yisrael. I visited many wealthy people (one of hundreds of visitors), who sat at their dining room tables with open doors, giving time and money to each visitor. One such person, a major supporter of Torah nationwide, decided to help a recent almonoh whom he had never met – Mrs. Stern, who had lost her young husband suddenly. He contacted all his business friends and other acquaintances and made a fundraiser on Purim night with a minimum gift of $1,000 for this tzedokoh. On Purim day, I met him and he told me that he had raised very substantial monies for this almonoh. He is a role model for all of us on the meaning of money and how we must approach the wealth that Hashem bestows upon us.
Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier discusses this very topic in The Schmuz; attached please find a selection of his words from his article.
“Moshe returned to Hashem and said, ‘Please! This people has committed a grave sin and made themselves a god of gold’” (Shemos 32:31).
When Moshe returned from Har Sinai, he found a very different scene from the one he had left forty days earlier. A segment of the Jewish nation, in rebellion against Hashem, had formed a golden calf and was worshipping it. The rest of the nation stood by without protesting. In context, this was such an egregious act that Hashem threatened to destroy the entire nation.
Rashi explains that during the process of asking for forgiveness, Moshe said to Hashem, “You caused this to happen. You gave the Jewish people gold and silver; they left Egypt with great riches. Wasn’t it obvious that they would come to sin?” This Rashi seems difficult to understand when we focus on who these people were and where this was taking place. The Jewish people were living in the desert. They neither worked for a living nor had any use for money. All their needs were taken care of. They ate monn that was delivered to their tents daily. They drank water from the miraculous rock that accompanied them on their journeys. Their clothes were washed by the Clouds of Glory and their shoes never wore out. They did not need money and could not use it. How could it become their downfall?
The answer to this question is based on understanding why wealth is considered one of the great tests of man. Materialism and self-indulgence are the risks of affluence, but an even greater danger is that wealth can lead a person to view himself as different from everyone else: “There are regular people, but I am different because I am rich. The world is full of people, but I am in a different category. I am a rich man.” With this also comes a sense of self-sufficiency and arrogance: “I am a wealthy man, so I don’t need anyone. I don’t need my children. I don’t need my wife. In fact…I am so wealthy that I don’t really need Hashem.”
This seems to be the answer to Rashi, and the concept has particular relevance in our day. Never in the history of mankind have so many enjoyed such wealth. On some level, each of us has the opportunity of “one day being rich.” As with many life situations, prosperity can be either a blessing or a curse. If a person changes because he is now a rich man, he needs more. He feels that he deserves only the best; he will not be satisfied with what everyone else gets by with. That sense of superiority will turn him against his Creator, and the very wealth that he acquired will be the source of his ruin. For eternity, he will regret having been given that test – which he failed.
But if a person remains aware that he was granted wealth for a purpose – that he is not the owner of it, but rather its custodian, duly charged with its proper use – then he can use it as a tool to help him accomplish his purpose in life. His wealth will be a true blessing that he enjoys in this world, and for eternity he will enjoy that which he accomplished with it.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman