There are different kinds of worth. This is illustrated in the old story of an entrepreneur who approaches a fisherman with an idea for a business. He can sell his catch for a higher price, buy a bigger boat, franchise, make a fortune and live a life of leisure. “What would I do with all that money and leisure?” he asks. “Why, you can spend your life lazing in a boat, fishing!”
The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as observing, “People say ‘time is money.’ But I say, ‘money is time.’ Making enough to live extravagantly costs precious hours of life, and I don’t have enough time for that.”
Money is not an absolute value, but how we make it and spend it reflects our values. In the Talmud, we are told that a man sent Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi a priceless pearl. In return the author of the Mishna sent him a mezuzah. When the man complained, Rabbi Yehuda said, “You have sent me something I have to protect; in return I sent something that will protect you.” Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was a very wealthy man and not averse to generosity. But he was teaching something about the scale of values. It is a lesson that has not gone out of style.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).