Saturday, April 06, 2019


I discussed over a decade ago a Jewish perspective on wealth by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. His complete essay from 1985 is at the Social Affairs Unit. (Hmm, I have not been to that site in a long time.  I should do that today.)

I have something simpler today.  The most reliable way to wealth is to give things away, and money may be the most important of those.  I don't have the contemplative chops or long experience to say that it is the best way, and certainly not the only way, because I don't know that.  Nor do I say it is an infallible or automatic method, as I have read of people who in their enthusiasm gave away what they could not really spare and regretted it.  In these situations they are often giving to the undeserving, fraudulent, manipulative, doesn't it seem?  These may still have been good Christian decisions that they needed to make to slay some other god before the altar of the One God.  But they did not end by calling themselves wealthy.  So I admit of many exceptions and admit also there is much here I do not understand.  People are very individual.

But I do see this as true in my own life, and many I see around me.  It seems a great contradiction, but Christianity is built on such paradoxes. We can easily imagine how giving things away would impoverish us, but make us wealthy?  How can this be?

I suspect there are many hidden mechanisms by which God makes such things work, but I know at least one.  When we give things away, we soon try to focus on what people really need, and which people have great need at present.  We set up a hierarchy of what is important to sustain life, to encourage others, to reduce their vulnerability and fear. We begin to identify that A is essential, B is important, C is sufficient, and D might be forgone in favor of giving A to a second person instead.

We come to see that we have A, B, C, and lots of D ourselves, in abundance.  This is not only an intellectual, guilt-ridden exercise of "Oh, I have so much.  I should be more grateful," but a belief which gradually asserts itself.  We see our own wealth.* You can see all this as a trick, I suppose, a way of reframing the old information, but I think lesson would be a more accurate description than trick.

If you didn't read the linked essays at the beginning, you might find them valuable now.

* I gave my children contradictory messages on this as they grew up.  I hope this was in a good way, capturing the paradox.  I would sometimes say we could not buy something they were wishing for "because we are poor."  Yet in another context I would say "Well, we're rich.  Life is good."  I know that's the right thing to do in principle, but I don't know if my execution of it was good.

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