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Financial Wisdom

Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

While the Jewish people were busy gathering the treasures of Egypt, in fulfillment of Hashem's promise to Avraham that his descendant would come forth from captivity "with great wealth," Moshe was doing some gathering of his own. He was preparing the remains of Yosef for transportation to Eretz Yisrael. The Talmud (Sotah 13a) praises Moshe for being a "wise heart gathering mitzvos" (Mishlei 10:8) while the rest of the people were gathering money.

After Havdalah, when we sing Hamavdil, we come across the phrase "zareinu vechaspeinu yarbeh kachol, may He increase our children and our money like the sand." The Vilna Gaon changed the text to read "zareinu uzechuyoseinu, our children and our merits." As it stands, commented the Gaon, "This is not a Jewish prayer. We ask for a decent livelihood. We do not ask for wealth.".

A man once came to the Vilna Gaon with a plea. "Rebbe, I want to make sure that all my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be learned and observant Jews. How can I accomplish this? Is there any special mitzvah I can do? Is there a segulah, a charm, for this purpose? Should I say a particular chapter of Tehillim every day? Or should I perhaps learn something in the Gemara? What should I do? What will do the trick?".

The Vilna Gaon looked at him intently. "There is something you can do," he said. "There is special prayer you can say in the Shema Koleinu blessing of Shemoneh Esrei.".

The man was a little disappointed. "You mean I should pray they should be learned and observant during the Shema Koleinu blessing?".

"Not at all," said the Gaon. "This is what you should say: Yehi ratzon, may it be Your will, Hashem my Lord and the Lord of my fathers, that my children should not be rich. Do not pray that they should be poor, just that they should not be rich. That will be their best protection.".

This, according to the Vilna Gaon, was the segulah, the charm, for having good Jewish children. He did not mean that rich Jews are somehow less Jewish than others are. It is certainly feasible for a rich Jew to be as learned and devout as any other Jew. It just takes more effort. Riches come along with tremendous temptation. All doors are open to the rich person, and it takes courage and determination not to step through some of the ones that are exceedingly enticing. In the long run, looking ahead to further generations, which rich person can feel confident that all his grandchildren will be equally strong and righteous? Experience has certainly shown us otherwise. Therefore, the best segulah for keeping all one's descendants securely within the Jewish fold is to shield them from the temptations of wealth..

On Shabbos Mevarchim, we ask Hashem for chaim shel osher vechavod, a life of wealth and honor. Why didn't the Vilna Gaon object to this wording as well as "not a Jewish prayer"? Why do we ask for wealth when it is such a dangerous commodity?.

Many years ago, I met a Jew who had just come back from Jerusalem. While there, he had visited a family - consisting of two parents and eleven children in a tiny one-room apartment. He remarked to me that he could not imagine how a family could live like that. He also expressed his amazement at the exceptional respect with which the children treated their parents and each other. Finally, he commented to me that the apartment was neat and clean, a place of dignity. It was one of the most amazing things he had ever seen..

This family undoubtedly did not have a large bank account. They did not have holdings and investments. But their lifestyle was certainly one of "wealth and honor." It could not have been more so had they lived in a sprawling mansion..

A person can have millions of dollars without having a life of wealth and honor. Perhaps his wife complains constantly, his kids drive him crazy and everyone is fighting. Is that a life of wealth and honor? What difference does it make that he has a million dollars if everyone is constantly bickering and nothing is ever good enough? On the other hand, it is possible to have eleven children, live in a one-room apartment and enjoy "a life of wealth and honor."

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