Wealth is a blessing, but it is also a test. In the words of the Torah, when we grow wealthy, we grow haughty. We believe that we succeeded because of our industriousness, courage, tenacity, resourcefulness, and ambition. We forget that success is granted by G-d
The business environment is cutthroat, and we often encounter these negative traits among our competitors. We think we must do the same to gain an advantage over them. But we forget that success doesn’t result from investing the extra hour or cutting the extra corner. Success comes from G-d.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev once observed a Jew tearing through the marketplace. “Whom are you chasing,” he asked. “My livelihood,” cried the Jew over his shoulder as he ran by. Reb Levi Yitzchak stood there wondering. How does he know his livelihood is in that direction, and he is running toward it, perhaps it is in the other direction, and he is running from it?
Our livelihood doesn’t depend on out-competing the competition, outsmarting the market, or beating the house. You can hang your shingle, run your business, hustle for clients, and come up empty. You can earn your degree, send out your resume, and never find a position. Worse, you can find a position and lose it tomorrow. Or you can make a nominal effort and achieve dizzying success. It is all in G-d’s hands.
It is human nature to ascribe success to our own creativity and inventiveness even though we know deep down that it is up to G-d. We know that we should be filled with gratitude every time we make a good deal. We should show this gratitude by setting aside money for the poor and extra time for Torah study. But this is easier said than done.
The Test of Wealth
As we grow wealthier, we grow more encumbered. We have more demands on our time, and more people that depend on us. We have less time for ourselves and certainly less time for G-d. To set all this aside and sit down for a lunch and learn Torah study session in the middle of the day, as if we have not a care in the world, is excruciatingly difficult.
Yet, those who set business aside and spend an hour with G-d in prayer or study in the middle of the hectic day achieve the highest degree of freedom. The deepest connection with G-d. It is much easier to set time aside for G-d when we there is little on our plate. But when our plate is heaping high, it is much more difficult. When we do it anyway, we are truly blessed.
In addition, setting aside time for Torah study during a busy workday in a cutthroat business environment gives us an unparalleled sense of freedom, calm, and peace. There is nothing like it.
A Jew once boasted of his wealth to the Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radin. The rabbi told him that if he is, indeed, that wealthy, he should set aside several hours a day for Torah study. The man was incredulous. On the contrary, rabbi, since I am this wealthy, I am too busy to ser time aside for Torah study. The rabbi replied, “In that case, you are not wealthy; you are poor. Time is the most important commodity in life. If you don’t have time, what good is your money?
The question is how to overcome this test of wealth. How can we succeed and keep it from getting to our heads? How can we be prosperous and humble at the same time?
The solution, my dear friends, is to view our wealth not as ours but as G-d’s. If I am lining my bank account, I will naturally feel superior to those who have less than me. If I am lining G-d’s pockets, it has nothing to do with me. It is G-d working through me.
The basis of this thinking is the idea that our money does not belong to us. It is given to us for safekeeping. When the time comes, the owner will come calling and collect his treasure. The owner is G-d, and the collectors are the poor.
It works like this. G-d has enough money in the world for all people, but He does not distribute it equally. The wealthy receive more, and the poor receive less. The intention is for the wealthy to distribute the excess they receive to those who receive less.
When we earn a good profit on our investment, it is G-d telling us that he wants to park His money in our account. He will expect us to return it when the poor come calling. For our efforts, we earn a percentage, but the percentage is just enough money for us to live comfortably. We don’t use G-d’s money to buy opulent homes or late-model cars. We don’t use it to take our families on exotic vacations. We don’t see it as our money. It belongs to G-d. We are privileged that He deposited it with us for safekeeping.
Some poor person needs that money for food, rent, or gas. Some poor family depends on that money to pay their electric or heating bill. We won’t take it from them to enjoy luxury.
When we think this way, it changes our perception of each dollar we earn. Rather than thinking that we can now afford a new luxury, we wonder which charitable project G-d has in mind for this money. We park it in a savings account, and when the phone rings and someone asks us to support a charitable cause or a poor person, we discover just who or what this money was intended for.
This reminds me of the poor person who collected a generous donation every year from Rothchild. One year, he knocked on the door and asked for his gift, but Rothchild apologized and explained that he had recently made a terrible investment. To which the poor fellow replied, “With my money?”
Indeed, the money is not ours. It belongs to the poor. When we remember this, we don’t grow haughty or feel superior. We are not managing our own accounts; we are managing our client’s money. We are privileged to be G-d’s banker, but that doesn’t make us haughty. That makes us humble.
Someone once came to Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt to ask for financial assistance. The Rebbe sent him to one of his wealthy Chassidim, but the wealthy man turned him down. Shortly thereafter, this wealthy person made a series of bad investments and lost everything. He came to the Rebbe and acknowledged that he had turned the man away, but did he deserve to lose everything for his lapse?
The Rebbe explained that this was not a punishment but a consequence. Before I was born, the Rebbe explained, I was informed that I would be a communal leader and that I would be entrusted with great wealth to distribute to others. I objected because I did not want to endue the test of wealth. It was determined that I would the Rebbe, and you would distribute the money. Thus, you grew wealthy. But when you proved to be an unreliable banker, G-d transferred His account to a different bank.
Wine and Dine
Proper business etiquette is to keep one’s clients happy. This is why salespeople routinely wine and dine their clients. G-d doesn’t drink, nor does He play golf. How do we keep G-d happy? By taking time from our business and spend it with Him in prayer and Torah study.
Happy clients willingly sign new contracts and do larger and larger deals. When we work for ourselves, we don’t have time for G-d because we are busy with our clients. When we work for G-d, we have all the time in the world for G-d because He is our client.