Measuring Success Like G-d
Never more than today are we living lives of total excess. This week, we saw a Mercedes-Benz 1995 car sell for a record-breaking $142 million. Last month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, authorities seized a Russian oligarch’s $793 million mega yacht. And this last year, Morgan Stanley predicted that Elon Musk may eventually become the world’s first trillionaire.
These news items highlight incredible stories of “success,” typically defined by the attainment of immense wealth, power, and honor. Further, the motto that aptly applies for the masses here is “the more the merrier!” In short, human beings are not so much defined by who they are in terms of their character and integrity, but rather by how much they’ve amassed in terms of various gauges of material success.
From the earliest of ages, we look to give our children “a leg up” with early childhood learning, raising a prodigy through music, dance, art, and sports, getting the best education money can buy, making the “right” connections,” and landing prestigious internships, and going on to excel at one’s career (doctors, lawyers, accountants, and venture capitalists preferred).
Those who “make it,” are showered with money, power, and honor for their achievements. And this is typically followed by the trophy spouse, big house, fancy car, exotic vacations, and more. Madonna’s hit 1984 song “Like A Virgin” about the girl that holds out for the boy with “cold hard cash” probably epitomized this near worship of money in the famous lyrics:
Cause we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl
However, we don’t have to get suckered into this social vortex of materialism as the be all and end all in life. There can be is a realization that wealth, beyond what is needed to reasonably live and sustain ourselves, is a meaningless endgame. When we chase material things, we give in to self-indulgence, underlying greed, and the mere illusion of success. Worse yet, this distracts us from our pursuing our true purpose which is to think, speak, and do good in life.
Without a doubt, G-d did not put us here to fight over and possess ever more “things,” but rather our mission “if we choose to accept it” is to emulate G-d and grow ourselves spiritually and in holiness. Of course, every religion provides a path for this, but still for the masses, oftentimes religion is at best a one day a week affair or maybe just the high holidays.
In synagogue today, Avraham (the Breslow) said that if you look for “success” under the category of books in Amazon, you max out at over 60,000 books. From Secret of Success to The Success Principles, The Law of Success, Fundamentals Success, and Millionaire Success Habits, the titles and advice abound. However, in contrast to these books, it was pointed out that the Torah (the world’s #1 best-seller) is actually a book that is the antithesis of how-to lead a life of material success, where:
- If you’re in agriculture, the Torah commands that you leave your field fallow every seven years.
- If you’re in real estate, the Torah tells us that all acquired lands return to their owners free of charge at the Jubilee.
- If you’re in finance and banking, the Torah prohibits the charging of interest.
- If you’re in industry, the Talmud teaches us that we are to limit our profitability to just 16.67%.
Clearly, the message of the Torah is that money, profit, and materialism is not what’s really important in life. Rather, we are created in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:27) and we are to strive to learn from and be like G-d and grow our inner person, our soul in holiness through the commandments and living our lives like mensches.
Fundamentally, we all know that physical life is a cycle from birth to death, and as the Buddhists teach ultimately all material items are lost. So, life cannot be about amassing money, mansions, and McLarens. No one takes it to the grave with them! The only thing that we can take with us from this world is the learning, growth, and good deeds that we achieve spiritually.
In a world where marketing, sales, advertising, branding, and the media all seek to convince us that life is essentially about “things,” self-satisfaction, the next high, and happiness, we can easily forget how transient and valueless all that really is. Inside each of us though there is a deeper, true voice that seeks a life of real meaning, purpose and immortality, where faith, compassion, giving, and self-sacrifice is the true measure of our character and the ultimate gauge of life success.