Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This Shabbos we read Parshat Ki Tisa, which includes one of the more troubling episodes in our nation’s history. The Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael believed that Moshe was late in coming down from Har Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. The people became impatient and demanded that Aharon create a god for them to worship. In an effort to stall, he told them to collect jewelry. Ultimately, they melted it all down and created a golden calf to worship.

While the thought of worshipping another god likely seems foreign to Jewish Press readers, I can’t help but appreciate the parallels to our society’s “golden god” in the form of materialism. The pursuit of material possessions is a relatable temptation for many. It is a major challenge in frum communities around the country as people chase gashmiyus in the form of luxurious cars, McMansions, exotic Pesach programs, and designer clothes, to name but a few.


In truth, there is nothing wrong with having nice things or going on luxury vacations. I’ve previously written about my firm belief that the Torah encourages us to be prosperous and live a comfortable life. The important distinction is not to let money, and the things money can buy, define who we are. If our self-worth is tied to our possessions, it will only lead to struggles, heartache, and an unfulfilling life. Sadly, I can share countless stories of how money drove families apart and inhibited folks from achieving their full potential.

When I meet with affluent families, I endeavor to frame money as a tool and not a scorecard. Communicating this viewpoint is often even more impactful than the investment recommendations or tax mitigation strategies I implement on their behalf. A healthy relationship with money will likely lead to a better family life, broader societal impact, and a potentially larger nest egg. I share the following three thoughts with my wealthy clients to help them avoid having their money become a stumbling block:

  1. All that we have comes from Hashem: A helpful perspective in life is to remember that all our material success comes from G-d. We are simply stewards of the money He has given us, and therefore it is incumbent upon us to act in a manner befitting this role. This includes utilizing our funds in a way that is aligned with Jewish values. It also means maintaining a level of humility, being grateful for what you have, and not broadcasting your life for the world to see – because what Hashem gives, he can also take away.
  2. Money shouldn’t define who you are: There are many more important facets of life beyond just your bank account or income that should influence your character. These include family, community, Torah study, charitable work, and various other dimensions of life. Hopefully these factors play into how we define ourselves, rather than letting money become the essence of our identity. A focus on money can be all encompassing. If your values are not more powerful than your money’s influence over you, then your wealth will bring you down.
  3. Tzedakah is the ultimate remedy: The antidote to being consumed by money is to view it through the lens of selflessness. This means generously giving both your time and money to people or organizations in need. It also means teaching future generations that having money brings a responsibility to lift others who need assistance. Being blessed with money can quickly turn into a curse if it is hoarded or becomes a status symbol instead of using it in a way to benefit the broader community.

Lessons from Newport: A few years ago, my wife had a business meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. Since the hotel and rental car were paid for by her company, I obviously decided to tag along. The hotel was near two tourist attractions that I wanted to visit: The Breakers and the Touro Synagogue. So, while my wife was in meetings all day, I took the opportunity to explore.

The Breakers is a Gilded Age mansion that was built in the late 1800s as a summer residence for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The five floor, 70-room mansion has a gross area of 138,300 square feet. The entrance is marked by sculpted iron gates and a limestone-and-iron fence borders the property. The edge of the estate is on cliffs overlooking Easton Bay of the Atlantic Ocean. Walking through that house the word that often came to mind was “extravagance.” Unfortunately, the Vanderbilt family’s immense fortune was depleted within a few generations due to their excessive lifestyle and poor management of their funds.


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On the other hand, the Touro Synagogue, while still beautiful, is a much more modest structure. It was built in 1763 by wealthy Jewish businessmen who decided to donate money to establish a place for Jewish worship in the New World. It is the oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States and is still in use for Orthodox services with approximately 175 member families.

The Breakers represents what happens when you are engulfed by materialism, while the Touro Synagogue represents what happens when timeless and virtuous values influence the way you use your money. The Vanderbilt’s spent their wealth on all the most lavish forms of luxury, but now their home is a relic of the past. It’s nothing more than a 2-hour sightseeing tour on your way to your next location. In contrast, the Touro Synagogue is still in use more than 260 years later. Jews are thriving, professionally and religiously, all across the United States today thanks, in no small part, to this little shul in Newport, where the first seeds of Yiddishkeit in the U.S. were planted.

As you take stock of your financial situation, it’s important to assess your values. Do you want to worship your money and possessions, or do you want your values to influence how you use your money? Choose wisely! Your legacy depends on it.


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Jonathan I. Shenkman, AIF® is the President and Chief Investment Officer of ParkBridge Wealth Management. In this role he acts in a fiduciary capacity to help his clients achieve their financial goals. He publishes regularly in financial periodicals such as Barron’s, CNBC, Forbes, Kiplinger, and The Wall Street Journal. He also hosts numerous webinars on various wealth management topics. Jonathan lives in West Hempstead with his family. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter/YouTube/Instagram @JonathanOnMoney.