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How Much Money is Enough?

Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )


Chastising the Israelites for the incident of the spies, Moses said, "God heard the sound of your words, and He was incensed" (Deut. 1:34).

What is meant by “the sound of your words”? Would it not have been sufficient to say, “God heard your words?”

Moses said, “They took in their hands from the fruit of the Land and brought it down to us; they brought back word to us and said, `Good is the Land that God gives us. But you did not wish to ascend” (Deuteronomy 1:25-26). If the report was so favorable, why did they not wish to ascend?

The spoken word is different than the written word. The tone of voice can be sarcastic and give words the diametrically opposite meaning. When the spies said, “The Land is good,” the sarcastic tone of their voices indicated just the reverse.

The spies showed the Israelites the beautiful fruit they had brought. But the inflection of, “This is its fruit,” conveyed the message, “Just look at the size of the fruit! Gigantic fruit, gigantic people. They are invincible” (Midrash).

This is what Moses meant. The words in themselves were good, but the sound of the words conveyed their real meaning.

We must be as careful of how we speak as well as of what we say. The Chafetz Chaim says that one can be in violation of lashon hara (defamatory speech) without uttering a single word. If at the mention of a person's name you grimace in a way that indicates your disapproval of him, you are guilty of lashon hara.

Modern psychologists speak of the importance of body language. Non-verbal communication may be even more effective than what one verbalizes. We must be as careful not to “speak” lashon hara with the body as well as with the tongue.

“For God, your God, was with you; you did not lack a thing” (Deut. 2:7).

Solomon says, “A lover of money will never be satisfied with money” (Ecclesiastes 5:9). The multibillionaire J. Paul Getty was asked, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a bit more.”

This is true not only of money but of virtually all earthly pursuits. Our desires are like bottomless pits, leaving us devoid of lasting satisfaction.

The Talmud says, “This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure and sleep on the ground” (Ethics of the Fathers 6:4). This does not mean that we must live a life of deprivation. Rather, if we can be satisfied with the bare essentials of life, then we are free to pursue the study of Torah even if we live in comfort. But if we must have comfort and conveniences, the pursuit of these will dominate our lives and detract from Torah.

A person whose primary desire is a closeness with God lacks for nothing. Whatever he has is satisfactory.

I was privileged to visit the Steipler Gaon. He lived in utter simplicity. He turned down gifts of money because he had no need for anything more than he had. He was much happier than many people who live in great opulence.

This was true of many of our righteous leaders. The Chafetz Chaim kept his store open only until he had earned enough for that particular day. He lived into his 90s and is far better remembered than some people whose constant pursuit of wealth brought their lives to a premature end, and who may be remembered only by inanimate monuments.

We are subject to two major influences; our emotions and our intellect. Our emotions may produce infinite appetites, whereas our intellect teaches us that happiness is not achieved by gratification of our earthly desires.

Our uniqueness as human beings is in our intellect. Animals, too, are driven by emotions. We ought to have sufficient pride in the dignity of being human to live our lives according to our intellect. That will confirm for us the words of Moses, that when God is with us, we lack nothing.

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