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The Systems of the Jewish Year

"Holiness in Judaism" - Comments

1 yehoshua on 2013 04 26

Thank you, Rabbi, as usual, for a thought provoking dvar Torah.  Perhaps we think negatively about gashmiut, at times, because wealth tends to dull a person’s spiritual side and rich people, like evil people, can become dead, losing their souls under layers of materialistic fat.  The Torah instructs that rich people are more challenged than poor ones when it comes to having a relationship with Hashem.  Perhaps that is why the Avot were wealthy.  We learn from them that materialism does not have to be a barrier to holiness.  When Avraham takes Yitzhak up Mount Moriah, he leaves his chamor (donkey) below.  Chamor is synonymous with chomer, that Avraham had to rise above his material accoutrements—even while they remained at the foot of the mountain, awaiting him upon his return. And, after all, this chamor was the vehicle (literally!) by which Avraham reached the mountain of holiness. Also, we see that Moshiach will ride upon a chamor, instructing us that redemption is not about discarding materialism but rather about taking proper control of it.

2 Rabbi Yaacov Haber on 2013 04 26

Where does the Torah say “that rich people are more challenged than poor ones when it comes to having a relationship with Hashem”?

3 yehoshua on 2013 04 26

Please excuse me if my words are imprecise, but much has been written on wealth being a greater test of emunah than poverty.

In Kol ben Levi, the author writes, “There are two trials before the individual: the test of wealth and the test of poverty… Both are difficult… but the test of wealth is greater than (the test of) poverty.”

Rav Yisroel Salanter taught that there are two kinds of tests in life, that of poverty and that of wealth. While the common perception is that the test of poverty is the more severe one, in truth, the test of wealth can, sometimes, be much greater.  The Torah often warns us of the possible disastrous effects, most notably in the book of Devarim, when it describes how, after the people enter the land and are met with material success, they need to guard themselves from attributing that success to their own efforts and not acknowledging God’s role. Rav Aharon Soloveichik mentioned that an ancestor of his, a certain Rav Yeshaya, was a student of the Vilna Gaon, the Gra, and known to be a great tzaddik, or righteous person, to the extent that even non-Jews would ask him to bless their fields. Rav Yeshaya, according to the story, was worried about his future descendants, who would not have the benefit of the Gra’s influence, and asked his teacher if it was better to be rich.  The Gra answered that he should pray every day that none of his descendants become rich, based on the verse in Mishlei, 30:8, in which King Shlomo asks God not to cause him either poverty or wealth, but that He should grant him his daily portion (’hatrifeini lechem chuki’wink. Rav Yeshaya followed the Gra’s advice, and according to Rav Aharon, the prayer was answered. Rav Aharon went on to say that by realizing that wealth can be an even bigger test of one’s faith we can understand why, in the prayer we say before announcing the new moon, we repeat our request to live a life filled with fear of heaven. The reason for this, said Rav Aharon, is that an extra degree of fear of heaven is needed once wealth is attained. Parenthetically, while this request for wealth would seem to be opposed to the prayer of king Shlomo in Mishlei, perhaps we can differentiate between a prayer for riches on a personal level, and a prayer for riches on a collective level. In any case, the point is that the challenge of maintaining one’s faith in God after he has attained wealth can be greater than the test he has when poor, when he may very likely feel that his only recourse for help is turning to God in prayer.

4 Rabbi Yaacov Haber on 2013 05 03

Thanks - I’m familiar with this. This is a great Machlokes Achronim. Usually Reb Yisroel is quoted. I just wouldn’t say that “the Torah” says. Nor would I assume that it is Emes for everyone.

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