Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

The Challenge of Wealth

Parshas Tzav

By Dr. Meir Tamari

Shimon bar Yochai taught, “The Olah is only brought for evil thoughts”. Said Rabbi Levi, “This is explicit in the verse ‘HaOlah (that which cometh) into your mind, shall not be to worship wood and stone’ (Ezikiel, 20:32)” (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 7:3). “The Olah atones for non-fulfillment of positive mitzvoth (like the person who forgot to give charity or to put on tefillin) or for a negative mitzvah related to a positive one (the injunction against closing ones hands not to give charity), both errors only in thought” (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 36a). It is clear that there is punishment for the sinful thought process. “You shall not covet” is after all one of the Ten Commandments and it is obviously aimed at thought crimes.

Such thoughts are the primary factor in all our actions since ‘the thought is father to the deeds’. This is particularly the case in economic immorality. The desire for wealth is a positive and beneficial one and that desire is the force which motivates people to produce and to acquire wealth and economic assets. It brings in its wake progress and prosperity, Our Rabbis’ once caught the Evil Inclination and imprisoned him. They thought that now only good would motivate Man, only to find that there wasn’t even one fertilized egg to be found and people were simply not making any effort to develop the world and to engage, amongst other things, in economic activity. This means that thoughts about other peoples’ wealth or standard of living would be a positive thing because it would encourage us to try and emulate them. However, that is only one side of the coin. The down side of those thoughts is that the chase after an ever rising standard of living often causes us to achieve unethically, what we can not obtain through ethical means. The slippery slope of greed is constant and greed is after all one of the main sources of business immorality. In Pirkei Avot (Chapter 5, Mishnah 13) the rasha is defined not as one who takes another’s possessions, but as one who lusts after them, saying “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is (also) mine”.

The Rambam codified the legal situation of these thoughts insofar as economics and business are concerned. “One who covets and exerts social or any other kind of pressure on the owner to sell, even though he pays market price, and there is no punishment since there has been no illegal action, nevertheless his atonement requires a korban. (Hilkhot Gezeilah VeAveidah, Chapter 1: Halachot 9-11)

The problem is how to punish one for these thoughts, or for that matter how is somebody supposed to know that another person has such thoughts. The example given by the Codes is the story of Navot and his vineyard, as described in 1 Kings, Chapter 21. Navot had a vineyard adjacent to the home of the King Ahab in Jezreel, which the King coveted. His pressure on Navot to sell it to him or to exchange it for a far superior vineyard was of no avail. The King, in the language of the Tanach, was depressed, refused to eat or drink and turned his face to the wall in a monumental sulk. His non-Jewish queen, Jezebel, promised to get the vineyard for him; and so cure him of his frustration. She brought trumped up charges of blasphemy against Navot, and on the evidence of bribed witnesses, Navot was found guilty and put to death. His property, including his vineyard became the property of the Crown. When King Ahab went to take possession of the vineyard, which he had coveted, he was met by the Prophet Elijah who challenged him, saying, “Hast thou murdered and also come to take possession?”. First comes the coveting, then the pressure on the owner to part with his property, and if he does not do so it leads to murder.

These thoughts are always influenced by the standard of living of the surrounding society and the high pressure persuasion of the advertising industry in both the written and electronic media. More becomes better than less and we are convinced that we never have enough. The average person finds it almost impossible to withstand these pressures whereby wants, which are unlimited, are translated into needs. Then we have to devote more time and more effort to find the means to fund our new requirements. We become slaves then to our needs and have to satisfy them either through moral and legal means; where these are insufficient, we will do so through immoral and unethical ones.

These pressures do not absolve us from unethical or immoral thinking in the economic sphere; they only make it more difficult for the individual to withstand them.


Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.


 

ARTICLES ON TETZAVEH:

View Complete List

The Significance of the Mishkan
Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky - 5763

Moshe Unmentioned
Shlomo Katz - 5758

Divine Reflections
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5774

ArtScroll

Behind the Scenes
Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum - 5764

Amalek: Existence and Non-Existence
Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene - 5766

Commanding Emotions
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5769

Looking for a Chavrusah?

The Hidden Essence
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5762

Every Step Has An Impact
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5762

A Well Oiled System
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5767

> The Wanderer
Shlomo Katz - 5769

Why Not Celebrate Our Hero's Birthdays?
Shlomo Katz - 5760

G’d the Source of Life
Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky - 5771

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Telling Bells
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5766

Simple Acceptance
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5762

Making This World A Reflection Of The World To Come Part II
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5765

Can Span Generations
Rabbi Label Lam - 5768



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information