Money maketh not the man
Short Essays written on a variety of different Jewish concepts.
[Exodus 35:1 – 38:20]
23rd March 2017 | 25th Adar, 5777
In ancient times, at this time of year, a census would be taken. Each person would give half a shekel for use in the Temple. The money would be counted; multiply by two and that’s the amount of people! The Torah makes it very clear when giving the commandment to do this (in last week’s portion): ‘the poor man shall not give less and the rich man shall not give more’.
But surely this is obvious. If everyone gave according to their means, and hence differing amounts, it would be impossible to count the people!! The Torah must be pointing to something deeper than simple census advice. And indeed, it is.
In today’s Jewish world, indeed in society at large, a person is often judged by how much money he has. How big is his house, how small and fast is his car – and how much does he give to charity. It’s nothing new. We Jews have almost always judged ourselves, and each other, by our bank balances. In this country today, the ‘leaders’ of our Jewish community are not necessarily those who are most able to lead, but those who are most able to give – even if they don’t! A miserly billionaire will sit at the top table of every charity dinner. A pauper, who gives beyond his means, will languish in Jewish obscurity.
The Torah tells us that this is wrong, ‘the poor shall not give less, the rich shall not give more’. When counting Jews, a rich man is not worth 100 poor men. All are equal. Each has his role to play.
We are all guilty of it. I don’t believe there is anyone reading this email who doesn’t take a wealthy man more seriously than a poor man. We will have some sense of awe for even an unpleasant billionaire. Yet someone who is ‘between jobs’ can be the nicest guy in the world, but he will struggle to earn his own respect, let alone that of anyone else.
We respect money and we respect success. But that means we don’t really respect human beings.
The money that was given for the census was used for the Temple. The message is clear. In the service of God, all are equal. Money may buy respect from others, but before God, the wealthy man has nothing more to offer than anyone else.
Having a lot of money does not make a person into a good human being. The sooner we can start honouring character and decency above wealth, the better off our community will be.