Ethics of Our Fathers 6: The Values Beyond Money

July 5, 2024

Who turns down a million-dollar offer? And who says no to the gift of a new Cadillac? A Jewish perspective on the values of Torah and spirituality.

Sicha, Shabbos Parshas Pinchos 5741

An Irrefusable Offer

Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma received an offer with a very attractive compensation package to move to a place of no Torah, but refused.

The glaring question is, shouldn’t he have accepted the offer and given the money to charity? There is a value of Torah studying in poverty (Source 1) but he could have given the money to others! Other sources, however, indicate a value in studying Torah with wealth (Sources 2-3).

In order to explain his decision, Rabbi Yosei cites Psalms, “I prefer the Torah of Your mouth over thousands in gold and silver.” King David understood the value of money and charity, yet wrote in Psalms that Torah was more precious to him.

Story: Rabbi Yosei ben Pazi began studying Torah in order to become wealthy, but ultimately grew to understand that Torah is more precious than gold and silver.

Torah Affects the World

Torah affects the entire world. At a funeral, when underscoring the sum total of  a person’s life, we emphasize the deceased’s Torah learning and good deeds, not their material wealth. This is true during a person’s lifetime as well; the Torah guides us on how to behave correctly.

Moreover, the Torah affects not only the learner and their surroundings, but even the “nobles of Rome” as evidenced by their attendance at the funeral of Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma, where they paid their final respects.

Transcending Materialism

The moral of the story of Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma is that we need to prioritize the important values in our lives and remember that the most important of all is Torah study, not material wealth.

Story: The Rebbe refused a new car, explaining it was meaningless to him.

The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that we cannot judge our fellows because we are not in their place and did not experience the same challenges they did. It follows that a person who experienced a challenge and withstood it (in addition to all their other merits, see Source 4) can demand of others to follow suit. We prefer no challenges at all, and pray that G-d does not place temptation before us (Source 5), but one who has withstood them successfully can in turn demand that from others. Thus, Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma, who withstood a temptation, is the one telling this to us.

Story: The Talmud tells of three tzadikim who experienced the challenges of poverty, wealth and beauty, and they each demand of us to withstand those challenges.

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