There are those who think all Jews are rich, and who believe every conspiracy regarding the Jewish people controlling global wealth. But anyone who has visited Israel know that nearly every Jew living here is poor. Especially those who earn their income in foreign currency, thanks to the relative strength of the shekel.
When I came to Israel in 2007, I received over five shekels for one euro. Today, you get only 3.80 shekels per euro. Fortunately, I am paid in shekels, but our readers pay for our services in euros and dollars that lose value almost every day before our eyes. It almost make one want to become a Jewish currency speculator like those featured in the aforementioned conspiracy theories.
That creates a bit of a conflicting situation here in Israel. Yes, our economy is strong, but the cost of living is very expensive for locals, and tourists are often shocked at the high prices.
The Bible values wealth
Unlike other religions, Judaism has a positive attitude towards money and wealth. Financial security enables one to concentrate on the essentials of life without having to constantly worry over how to get through the month. Money is not the goal of our actions, but rather a tool that enables us to live a better life, and even bless those less fortunate and help them to live with more dignity.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read that the Israelites received gold from Egypt before leaving the country.
“The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:35-36)
The Israelites then embarked on a 40-year journey through the desert, where they certainly did not have any opportunities to spend their new-found wealth. One reason for enabling them to plunder Egypt before departing could have been to affirm their self-worth in their own eyes. Being loaded is a nice feeling, even if you can’t spend it, right?
There are ideologies that reject money, wealth, and everything related to it. That is not the way of the Jewish Bible. Like so much in our world, money has its place. It’s just a question of how to use it.
If you merely save and hoard and never use it for good, you miss the point of properly using this powerful tool, which you anyway can’t take with you, as the following Jewish anecdote reveals:
Heschy Feldman worked hard all his life and put every cent aside. He was a real miser and loved his money more than anything.
Before he died, Heschy said to his wife Miriam, “Listen, when I die, take all my money and put it in the coffin with me so that I can take it with me into the next life.”
Miriam promised, and soon after, Heschy died. During the funeral, Miriam was sitting next to a friend. When the coffin was lifted, Miriam screamed at the last second, “Wait a moment!” She put a box she had with her in the coffin and it was carried away.
“You’re not really so stupid to have put all your money in the coffin?” asked the friend.
“I am an honest person,” replied Miriam. “A promise is a promise.”
“I can’t believe it! Did you really just put all of your money in the coffin?” cried the friend.
“Well, not entirely. I wrote him a check.”