Billy Beane could do it all. He could hit with power, field, throw, run, and at 18 was considered baseball’s next superstar. In 1980, the New York Mets offered Billy a bonus of $125,000 to sign a contract to play in the Major Leagues.
Beane, his parents refusing to intervene, agreed and that launched a decade of hell. Frustrated and angry over his inability to hit, he would bounce back and forth to the minor leagues while hearing from journalists, players and baseball executives how the scouts had got it all wrong. The bonus money was poorly invested and lost within weeks.
Years later, Beane remembered the Mets as one huge mistake. He had really wanted to take a scholarship to Stanford University and get an education. His decision was based on money and he vowed never to do that again.
On the eve of the crossing of the Jewish people into the Land of Canaan, Moses was stunned by the demand of nearly 25 percent of his flock. The tribes of Reuven, Gad and eventually half of Menashe did not want to live in the promised land. They were rich with cattle from the war with Midian and thought that the huge expanse of what is today Jordan and southern Syria would better suit them. The riches had changed the tribes, and money became the sole element in decision-making. Their property came first; then their children.
The decision by the tribes brought upon a tragedy that has lasted until this day. Although they fulfilled Moses’ conditions to the letter and led the conquest of Canaan, Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe essentially separated from the Jewish people. Once settled into Transjordan, the tribes quickly forgot their faith; the landowners took gentile wives to avoid inheritance; killings became rampant and attacks from the eastern desert frequent.
Throughout history, the Jews have been accused of being obsessed with money. Like all lies, this has a grain of truth — but no more. Jews are commanded to give charity of at least 10 percent of earnings as well as tithe fruits, vegetables, grains and dough. They are called on to welcome strangers into their homes with food, water and love. When Israel Aerospace Industries greeted visitors from abroad, the company presented a sumptuous meal. When Israeli journalists toured a leading U.S. defense company 10 times the size of IAI, they were told that they could buy a sandwich from a vending machine down the hall.
But the grain of truth is that when a Jew makes money his raison d’etre, his moral standing plunges. And when an entire community follows, the result is war, pestilence and exile. The Jewish nation broke up immediately after the death of King Solomon. The people had asked his son, Rehavam, to lower the high taxes imposed by his father. Rehavam, then 41, went to the aides of his late father for advice. They urged him to respond gently to the petitioners. Then, the new king met his friends. They told him to be tough. Guess who Rehavam listened to?
Money goes hand in hand with corruption. The priesthood during the Second Temple was bought by the rich and ignorant. They flocked to the false idols of Greece and Rome and became the persecutors of their people. The cruelty intensified during the anti-Semitic rampages, whether in Russia, Poland or Germany. In Palestine, British entry certificates were sold to the highest bidder as Hitler prepared for the Final Solution. Soon after World War II, David Ben-Gurion, speaking in the name of the Jewish people, made West Germany Israel’s leading ally and Wagner its favorite composer in exchange for what was called reparations.
Today, many of us teach our children that money means success. We teach them that everything can be monetized, so everything should be. The message we hear is that if something can make money then it overrides any moral consideration. Just take the current effort to legalize cannabis on grounds that it will bring in billions of dollars to Israel.
Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe were the first to be exiled. Then came the other tribes that broke away from Rehavam some 250 years earlier. Some of these Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael; most remained lost until this day.
Billy Beane’s story ended better. He gave up his playing career at 28 and became a scout for the Oakland Athletics. Within a few years, he rose to become one of the most successful general managers in the American League, taking a team of misfits to the playoffs.
Again, money reared its ugly head. The Boston Red Sox offered Beane a $12.5 million contract, the highest ever for a general manager. But it would mean that he leave his only teenage daughter back in Oakland thousands of miles away.
Beane said no. He had kept his promise.
For the rest of us, it’s not too late to learn.