Our Purpose on This Planet
The war we are fighting today is global. In Israel, we wage war through the power of the military, but in the diaspora, we are waging war with the power of the purse. When billionaire donors threatened to pull their gifts from Ivy League Colleges who refused to protect Jewish students from antisemitism on campus, some of them fired their Presidents.
As Jews, we have experienced astonishing financial success through the ages, far disproportionate to our numbers in society. Three of the four most recent presidents of the Federal Reserve are Jews. Over forty percent of Nobel Prize winners for economics are Jews. Thirty percent of the twenty richest people in the world are Jews. More Israeli companies are traded on the Nasdaq than those of any other country in the world, except the USA and China.
Indeed, from the very dawn of our nation, money seems to have been a major theme. When Abraham was notified by G-d that his descendants would suffer in Egyptian slavery, G-d was sure to tell him that they would eventually emerge with great wealth.
“And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great wealth. (Genesis 15:14).”
G-d repeats this point in much more detail when he appoints Moses to the task of leading the Nation to freedom at the Burning Bush.
“And I will give this people favor in the sight of Egypt: and it shall come to pass, that, when you go, you shall not go empty. but every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her that sojourns in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and garments: and you shall put them on your sons, and on your daughters; and you shall despoil Egypt. (Exodus 3:21-22)”
The Torah makes sure to tell us twice more that the Jews actually emerged with great wealth.
“And the L-rd said to Moshe, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharoah and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out altogether from here. Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man ask of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. (Exodus 11:2)”
“And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of Egypt jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and garments. And the L-rd gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they gave them such things as they required. And they left Egypt empty. (Exodus 12:35)”
What is the reason for the Torah’s apparent obsession with the wealth of the Jews? Why does this point need to be repeated so many times?
It was on the 10th of Shvat, 1951, the day that marked the beginning of the Rebbe’s extraordinary leadership of world Jewry, that the Rebbe enlightened us with the spiritual purpose of our generation and the meaning of money in our lives.
Quoting King Solomon’s Song of Songs, the Rebbe explained that our purpose on this planet is to infuse holiness into every part of this world. By utilizing each aspect and energy of this magnificent world in the service of G-d Almighty, we are sanctifying the object and the space engaged. Collectively, our accumulated efforts result in this entire planet becoming a home for G-d Almighty—a place where His presence is felt and appreciated.
“Regarding the great wealth that the Jews took out of Egypt…..From this wealth, they established the Temple and, in general, utilized it for holy purposes. This was the purpose at the foundation of the slavery in Egypt – that through this, they would leave with great possessions, and they would use and elevate the world through them. (Likkutei Sichos Vol.21 page 13).”
When we use our homes as a place to entertain guests and our boardrooms as a place to study Torah; when we ensure that the tithes of our bank account are distributed to charity and that our digestive system consumes only Kosher; when we use our time on the plane to meditate on a spiritual truth and ensure that our mouths speak only words that are worthy—we have sanctified those parts of ourselves and infused holiness into those pieces of real estate engaged. In this rich man’s world, nothing has the ability to make things move in this world more than money. Hence, when we are mindful to manipulate our money towards holy purposes, we are manifesting our mission in the most meaningful way imaginable.
Whilst other religions shun financial success as unholy—dismissing the “money changers in the Temple” with disdain—the Torah teaches us that money—and indeed all physical resources—are a veritable vehicle for the Divine, it all depends on what they are being used for. The Hebrew word for money is “kesef”, which has the same numeral value as “sulam”—a ladder. Just like a ladder can lead one either up or down, money too can be used to rise to great spiritual heights or to descend to dark, unholy depths.
If you happen to have more money than you need, this is not by chance. It’s because G-d trusts you to use it for the right purposes. Something as simple as tithing ten percent of your earnings to charity illuminates the other ninety percent of your wealth with the light of G-d.
Rabbi Eliyahu Friedman of Safed visited an Antwerp, Belgium philanthropist named Asher Nusbaum, to raise funds for the Yeshivah. When Reb Asher heard that Rabbi Friedman represented a Chabad institution, he promised to make a donation but asked to share a story first:
“I once learned of an auction for merchandise taking place in Switzerland. Unsure if I should buy it, I decided to ask the Rebbe for advice. The Rebbe advised me to estimate the amount I expected to earn from the transaction and set aside twenty percent of that amount for tzedakah (charity). Then, the Rebbe said, I should go ahead and buy the merchandise, and with G-d’s help I would realize the profit.
“That’s what I did. I set aside a very large sum for tzedakah, went to the auction, and bought the lot. My plan was to wait for the value to rise and (then) sell; meanwhile, I took a vacation with my family, but when I returned, the price still had not risen. Time passed, and to my great disappointment, the market price steadily plummeted. By this time, I wasn’t thinking about a profit anymore; I just wanted to cut my losses. I’m a businessman, a practical person by nature, and wrote another letter describing this development to the Rebbe, complaining that his promise hadn’t panned out.
“A few days later I received a response: ‘The Torah promises, “Tithe, so that you become wealthy;” surely this guarantee will be fulfilled. Don’t worry about the price drop; be patient.’ So, I held onto the goods, and eventually, the price rose far higher than I had ever expected, bringing a massive profit.”
Asher concluded: “The fact that the price of goods went up is no miracle; markets rise and fall. The miracle is the Rebbe’s absolute certainty that one doesn’t lose by giving charity, and the firmness of declaration that the Torah’s words must come true.”
Our souls were sent to this Earth on the mission of making this world a place that G-d can call home. We’ve been given all the resources we need to make this happen. Your current financial state makes it clear that G-d believes in you. The only question is if YOU believe in You?
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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