Avraham’s wealth was purposeful. It was designed to bring him respect from his peers and enable him to better promote his divine message. He was completely focused on advancing Hashem’s agenda, and on realizing spiritual goals. Why should that be demonized? We need not – and should not – succumb to materialistic excess. It is unnecessary, beneath our dignity, and the result of environmental influences we should strive to keep out of our lives. We know how to live – but we also know how to use our money to build Torah and shuls and yeshivot and mikvaot. We know how to help the indigent, and we know how to support Israel.
Wealth is a challenge but it need not be a curse, or somehow ignominious as today’s malcontents would want us to believe. Wealth is a “blessing from Hashem” (Mishlei 10:22), so it is to be used judiciously, wisely and productively. We don’t always succeed, but we do succeed much more than people tend to think. Wealth is therefore a great test, and our use of our bounty is usually a very keen indicator of our moral aspirations and the state of our character. Prioritizing Torah education and the performance of mitzvot is obviously a more effective and rewarding use of our bounty than is the relentless pursuit of more stuff – houses, cars, fancy gadgets and clothing, and extravagant affairs.
That is why none of the complaints and antics of these American protesters resonate with me. They choose not to see the hard work, the sacrifices, the risks and even the re-distribution wrought by the wealthy consumer (a person who buys a private jet supports a number of people who built that jet). All they see is mass consumption, all they see is materialistic excess – and they just want it for themselves, without having to work for it. They should learn the lesson of Sukkot, and we should strive to embody the values and vision of the Avot.
If we choose poorly, then wealth can corrupt us as well, and we can go down the path of Lot, Avraham’s nephew, who was literally destroyed by his worldly ambitions. But if we choose more wisely, then the legacy of the Avot is ours, and our example to the rest of society as to the divine values of personal responsibility, individual morality, the appropriate utilization of resources and generosity can be profound.
It was for that reason God chose Avraham, and blessed his offspring with that eternal mandate to the nations of the world.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.