Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's Not That Easy Being Green

"Did you read the story about your neighbor in yesterday's Post?" a friend asked.

I hadn't.

As it turns out, this neighbor—a man whom I knew was in real estate because I hear him on his cellphone in the back of the shul sometimes—had sold all of his real estate holdings, and made some money. Okay, not some money, a lot of money. How much?

How does five hundred million dollars sound?

It was all right there in the paper. And I daven with the guy. While I had always assumed he was wealthy, I never imagined he was that wealthy. So how do I react to the news? I’m jealous, of course.

And it's not the first time either. Every time I hear about someone who made a fortune—through investments, an invention, a top-40 song on the radio—my initial reaction is a pang of jealousy. Why not me? I’m smart enough. I’m talented enough. Where’s my fortune?

My second response, coming quickly on the heels of the first, is to disparage the wealthy. They’re corrupt. They made their money dishonestly. Sure, anyone can make a bundle—if they lie, cheat and steal. But since I don't do any of those things—because I am a prince among men—it’s not a level playing field. If I need to be poor in order to prove my virtue, then so be it!

But what if I know the person in question, and I know that he’s not corrupt. What if I’m pretty sure that he’s actually a good guy, who makes an honest living and shares his wealth with the schools, the shuls, the community organizations? What then?

Third response: Money isn't everything! I then proceed to recollect all of the terrible things that happened to wealthy people who I know. The kids who ended up on drugs. The ones who died when their private jet crashed. The money ruined them, or at least it didn’t save them.

If that doesn’t do the trick, I think of all the reasons why I’m a better person. Yes, they may be richer—but I'm better looking. I have more friends. I'm more religious. I'm more learned. I’m more talented. I have more to offer the world.

Petty, petty, petty.

Why can’t I simply say: G-d bless.

G-d bless them and their wealth. I'm sure they were given it for a reason, and I hope they makes the most of it. I'm confident that if and when G-d decides that there is a good reason for me tobecome rich, He will rain millions down my chimney, posthaste.

But until then, I ought to remain as content as if I actually had the money.

Admittedly, it's hard. No, not hard, near impossible. With bills to pay. With work to go to. With tuition bills coming due. With the holidays, and their concomitant expenses, upon us. There are financial reasons to worry. How is that fair?

How is it fair that I should struggle while they don't, that I should wonder if I can afford a new tie while their biggest concern is which of their six new thousand-dollar suits to wear on the first evening of Yom Tov?

Their problems are not my problems, because—to my mind—they have no real problems.

And yet.

Aren't all these thoughts a challenge to G-d's Infinite Wisdom? Aren't they a rebellion against His Supreme Authority? Am I not simply indicating my displeasure at how He runs His world?

Should I not be ashamed?

But here's a better question:

I’m walking down a street in Lakewood or Monsey or Baltimore and I see a man walking toward me. His jacket is rumpled, his hat dusty, his shoes scuffed. Scurrying to or from the beis medrash, the look on his face shows that he’s a bit oblivious to the world around him. Assuming this person has a tremendous wealth of Torah knowledge, do I feel the same instant pang of envy that I do when I see the wealthy guy in shul?

Do I start to think the same disparaging things?

Do I start to make the same comparisons to myself?

Do I actually feel jealous of the guy?

Why is it that I am immediately jealous of another man's money but not of another man's Torah? Particularly when I know that the money will eventually leave his hand, but the Torah will never leave his soul.

45 Comments:

Blogger Elster said...

Because that's human nature Cloo. Because while the IDEAL is to be jeaous of man #2, human nature is to want what man #1 has.

Hell, I could easily have written this post. I go from jealousy to envy to hatred to finally convincing myself that one day my turn will come and now is the time to plan all the good deeds I will do with it when it does.

Tue Sep 27, 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Wow. I must say I am blown away. I just came across your blog while reading the comments on mine.

I am so extremely impressed with this piece. I don't know what else you have written, but this one is highly admirable-content wise and writing quality.

Anyway, as far as what you wrote, I often feel the same way about people with money. At least you have the Torah knowledge to back you up. But I also know that more often than not, those living more simple lives with just enough to make ends meet are happier than money can buy.

I don't know about your neighbor. Maybe he is honest. Maybe he's not. But the fact that he has money in this world does not guarantee anything for the real world, as you so aptly said.

Does this guy live in a huge mansion and drive 2005 luxury vehicles? Then cynicism is excused in my opinion. I know a few people (as I discussed in my blog www.rikkikat.blogspot.com --sorry for the shameless-self-promotion) that B"H have a lot of money--one enough not to work another day in his life, and I only know because I am close with the family. No luxury vehicle. No huge mansion. No designer labels. Just nice, ehrliche people. Which gives me the idea his millions were made honestly.

Tue Sep 27, 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger brianna said...

Because the body is easier to obey than the soul, that's why.

Tue Sep 27, 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CJ: Great way to make a great point!

Michelle: Are you saying that people who have money shouldn't live in huge mansions, drive luxury vehicles or wear designer labels? Why not?

Tue Sep 27, 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

What can I say I love your pieces.. Not that I dont truely enjoy your blog, but its a shame to waste your talent on a blog when you could be writing excellent books for a larger audience..

Tue Sep 27, 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

Funny that you say all this now.
Last weekend I went to NYC to pick up a Torah for a friends kids Bat Mitsvah from a wealthy cousin of my friends husband.
Turns out he is one of the richest men in NY and owns an incredible building on Central Park.
I had met him a few times at things...but I didn't know him well.
When I arrived for our appointment that he set, he kept me waiting IN THE LOBBY for over half an hour.
When I went upstairs he had the Torah in an old duffle bag and barely spoke to me.
He wasn't even going to offer to let me use the rest room before I left!
I had to ask.
He was so rude it shocked me.
When I looked into him, I did some research to see how such a rich man could be so rude to a woman that had come on such an important mission.
I discovered that tho he was often with Presidents and World Leaders he was very sad.
So sad that he founded support group for wealthy unhappy billionaires. I am not kidding.
So money is not always happiness.
For me, my children are my fortune.
And Cloo Jew, if you need a new tie tell me.
When I am next in NY I will bring you one! :}

Tue Sep 27, 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

It's a test. If it were obvious to all that the modest man doing mitzvos is better off than the rich man living in luxury and getting honored, there wouldn't be a challenge.

Tue Sep 27, 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

I recognize myself completely in what you're writing. I do get jealous and wonder why I can't be the recipient of such good fortune (pun intended).
I think the reason you don't get jealous about Torah knowledge is because you know you can achieve it, if you try really hard, so your lazy part just says it's not so important.
But money is different as people who barely lift a hand can make millions and hard working people barely make ends meet.
Therefore you're jealous knowing that you can try to get wealthy but there's no guarantee as opposed to torah learning.

Wed Sep 28, 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Y.Y. said...

cj
if you were in the madregah to feel that torah is the most important thing a man can have in life you certainly wouldve been more jealous of man #2
but because we are human still we look at earthly things as very important and because money buys all these things we want money badly
hence making you jealous of the persons who have lots of money
also a person who made a fortune because of an invention or a top 40 song
i have to say that its not the invention or the hot song that made him/her rich i bet you can write a better song if you realy wanted
only god had him destined to become rich and the song or invention was the sheliach or the means how the money should hit his/her bank account

Wed Sep 28, 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Moochy said...

Agreeing with you 100%, and who will argue?

I think ever human being has this problem, one more and one maybe just a touch, but its there for sure.

Being aware that it exists, is half the problem solved.

You should be an official writer, (that misht bring you to the riches too.
And now agreeing with sem girl:

Wed Sep 28, 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger fsgsf said...

What a beautiful post!!

In yiddish there is an expression." To Fargin" loosely translated it means to "not begrudge" someone who has something which you do not.

Truth be told, I would not change places with anyone in the world! My beautiful children are my fortune. My Children cannot be replaced by any money in the world!

Everyone gets what they deserve. If you dont have 5 million dollars, it is because you would not be able to deal with it properly!

God gives each person exactly what is right for him/her.

Kesiva V'Chasima Tova to al1!

Peace!

NJ from NJ

Wed Sep 28, 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger energynorm said...

Did I miss the part where you say what this person does with his money? I have been in the non profit world for a very long time, and so I guess I view wealth very differently. To me it is only something to be jealous of when I see that it is wasted on material things and doesnt go to help fund schools and programs and groups and centers that need it.

I'll leave you with the following:

Eizehu ashir, hasameach b'chelko.

Wed Sep 28, 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

It's like the Jackie Mason routine - every jew has a house he could have bought for nothing and sold for a million dollars (or something to that effect) - when you ask them what about now...they said now? now it's too late.

It's really not all that easy to make a million (let along 500 million). you're looking at a very small fraction of the population.

might help to look down - at the ones with less.

Wed Sep 28, 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger int said...

You said Aren't all these thoughts a challenge to G-d's Infinite Wisdom? Aren't they a rebellion against His Supreme Authority? Am I not simply indicating my displeasure at how He runs His world?

These are interesting questions. Personally, I don't think anyone thinks that deep when having thoughts of jealousy and unfairness. And if one does, he usually still realizes in the back of his mind that ultimately whatever G-d does is fair. But it might not seem fair in his (the thinker's) eyes!

No amount of reflection is going to make someone who is L"A stricken with a terminal illness feel that it is fair. He may understand it, by understanding the logical concept of 'Whatever G-d does is fair', but he won't feel it inside of him. There will not be a complete, full acceptance. If something hurts (physicial pain or emotional pain), it hurts. You can't deny that or cause it to go away by any intellectual arguments.

So perhaps having feelings of jealousy and unfairness is OK, as long as one is aware that these feelings have no logical or intellectual support behind them. And of course, having feelings is one thing, acting on them is another.

Wed Sep 28, 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, same anonymous as before.

Let's say a person has 500 million dollars and has given half to charities all over the world (250 million). Where does it say in our Torah that this individual must live frugally.

On the other hand it does say very cleary, Lo Sachmod... - Do Not Covet (be jealous and desire, your neighbors wife, house...)

So it seems to me that the burden is on the coveter not the rich guy.

Wed Sep 28, 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

You probably know the answer to your own question, which deals with your own rich Torah life. Why would you want someone else's?

But the fact remains that we do become envious of what others do not have, and many times fail to be grateful for what we ourselves have.

I take nothing for granted. Each and every day, I thank G-d for a good day, and am grateful for all of His blessings.

Wed Sep 28, 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

Good for you Barbara. I strive to be sameach b'chelki (happy with my own lot). I have so much to be thankful for. But I seem to be surrounded by people who make significantly less money than me and enjoy twice (nay, thrice!!!) the lifestyle than me. Rich inlaws/parents. Sucks.

Wed Sep 28, 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous der blatt said...

and he is your neighbor man i am jealous on you

Wed Sep 28, 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

To the anynomous who disagreed with me previously. Well, you say about coveting, but I also learned in Chumash, when it said, "Penu LaChem Tzefona" (Turn yourselves north) The letters Tzadi, fei, and nun, also mean "hidden," where one Perush (I don't remember which) explained that we should not show off our wealth. We shouldn't make others jealous. It leads to chillul Hashem and Ayen Hora.

As I said, there are people who are millionaires, and don't feel the need to show it. Call it Anivus. Call it Bitachon. I call it a Mentsch.

Wed Sep 28, 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Wow. What a quick explosion of responses (even Barbarafromcalifornia resurfaced--Hey Barb!). Seems a lot of us are in the same boat. I did write this as a mussar piece to myself--to push me to be better, and to be envious of the right things.

Callie, your story reminds me of a terrific piece written years ago by Rav Emanuel Feldman, shlit"a, called "Tefillin in a Brown Paper Bag." It was published in Tradition magazine. It was actually about the level of writing in the Jewish community. But "Sefer Torah in a Dufflebag??? Ouch!

Oh, and thanks for the tie offer. I tend toward bright colors with stripes.

Prag, Even though I don't believe that's the reason for misplaced jealousy, you do raise a terrific point. "Anu ameilim umekablim sechar, veheim ameilim ve'einam mekablim sechar." Efforts in Torah learning are always rewarded and, hence, Torah is available to everyone; whereas wealth is more elusive. Even people who are very smart and work very hard may end up with very little money.

NormalJew, like all nisyonos, wealth can be challenging--but it's the one challenge (almost) everyone feels they are up to. Or would at least like to give it a shot!

Energynorm, great point. Are we more jealous of the millionaire who has a yacht or the millionaire who built a school?

Int, Part of getting from "understanding" to "feeling" is repitition--it's one of the reasons I posted this.

As for the machlokes between Michelle and Anonymous--that's a good one. It's more hashkafic than halachic and probably varies from person to person. Some hold that as long as you give the proper amount of tzedaka, there's nothing wrong with spending the rest of your money as you see fit. Others believe that regardless of what you have, you need to lay low. I tend to agree with the latter, but I won't condemn the former.

Interestingly, I just came across a gemara this week that says that poverty (explained as having enough to live without begging) is befitting a Jew "like a red strap on a white horse."

Wed Sep 28, 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Littleredridinghoodie said...

I read somwhere that rabbi Nachman says that bieng synical makes you poor...

Wed Sep 28, 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger energynorm said...

From personal experience, I can say I am more jealous of the millionaire with the yacht. The only thing I feel toward the one who builds a school is envy that he/she has the money to do that.

Wed Sep 28, 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

ClooJew: While I truly enjoy reading your blog, I don't always agree with the hashkafic undertone.

Yes, its a very lofty question that you ask, and a musardik question as well. However, the Torah is given to human beings, not saintly angelic individuals.

Envy. Its up there as number 10 of the Aseret HaDibrot. Its very accurate in terms of sizing up human nature.
לא תחמוד בית רעך: לא תחמוד אשת רעך, ועבדו, ואמתו, ושורו, וחמורו - וכל אשר לרעך
You should not be envious of your neighbor's home. Worse than that -- the very thought in your heart is a sin! Seeing a neighbor's wife, no pangs of envy? Car? Job? Yet, the Torah doesn't say anything about your post. Why? Where is the Torah's frum outlook of envying a person's zechuyot?

I can think of a few answers.

1. One outlook is to say that its part of the Oral Torah passed down to Moshe. Probably the easiest answer. Sort of like the 5th volume of Shulchan Aruch; obivously we need to have the correct hashkafic outlook.

2. The Torah was given to human beings, and as our brain's are hardwired to our eyes -- material envy is a part of human nature. We have to strive to be above it, and try again and again. This is probably one of the most difficult mitzvot that exist.

3. Why aren't you jealous for his zechuyot? Because there's no issur in it! There is no yetzer hara for being jealous of a person's Torah knowledge. The issur is purely for material things. This is human nature - and getting to the level of "jealousy" for a neighbor's spiritual level maybe more than we are expected to do.

4. Maybe the flipside of the Dibra is we be jealous of spiritual assets? Could that be even harder a mitzva to keep than the 10th Dibra?

May we be zocheh to a year of rebuilding, rebirth and redemption.

Shana Tova.

Thu Sep 29, 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

I suspect, reading between the lines, that the issue isn't so much the money, as the accomplishment of making the money. I noticed you don't say that you're envious of the person who won the lottery, or the kid with rich parents who drives a Lexus. It's the people who made the good investments, who wrote the hit songs. You're as smart, as talented - why not you? Probably similar to the way techies feel (I could have been google!), frustrated actors and writers (I'm at least as talented and good looking - why haven't I made it?), etc.

Thu Sep 29, 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger int said...

Int, Part of getting from "understanding" to "feeling" is repitition--it's one of the reasons I posted this.

Well, my point is that no amount of repetition will get you from 'understanding' to 'feeling'. You can't force yourself to feel like everything is fair, when it simply doesn't feel that way. You can't force yourself not to feel pain, no matter how much logical meditation you perform.

Thu Sep 29, 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the "tefillin in a brown paper bag" article was republished in Rabbi Feldman's brillian and witty book "the shul without a clock" - i am not a family member of Rabbi Feldman nor am I Rabbi Feldman himself - just a really big fan of his writing.

Thu Sep 29, 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jew Speak said...

Cloo, nice post and good question. My Rav once told over a similar idea. He said imagine that there were 100 glasses of water in front of you and some person told you that one of them contained poison. Would you take the chance and drink one? How about if it there were 1,000 glasses? Most of us normal people would not dare take the chance even if the guy who told us was did not appear credible. The famous Jewish question is why is this not real to us in spiritual matters? Rabbi Tatz said that if the consequences of our spiritual decisions were as real to us as physical ones we would have no free will. This I believe is the answer to your question. Shabbat Shalom!

Fri Sep 30, 09:22:00 AM  
Anonymous daat y said...

Jameel,
Since chazal understood human nature ,the Rambam poskens that you are only over'lo sachmod when you act on it'velakachta loch.'

Sun Oct 02, 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

cloo, just saw your post. Excellent as usuall. Yasher koach.

Thu Oct 06, 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous kaspit said...

Your post really touches a nerve. I know at least 2 people with whom I'd once been close, who became billionaires. My dad is also friendly with (another) one now. But envy seems to hit me more around people who I'm close to now, regular folks who somehow seem to be a leg up on me/us.

A key issue that seems to be missing in this thread: Justice. It doesn't quite help that your neighbor came by it honestly. There's no escaping the core problem, that the economic system does not try to optimize fairness. It is simply irrational and unjust for one person/family to end up with millions while so many others are struggling to get by, or starving.

Our sense of the injustice can help defuse and depersonalize the envy.

Shanah tovah, gmar tov,

Kaspit

Sun Oct 09, 02:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is of any comfort, green was the color of Esther Hamalka's face(the color of kedusha/schina.)

Gemar Tov

Sun Oct 09, 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I'd like to try another theory. Jealousy isn't directed at what the other person has. It's a mirror looking at ourselves. We know that we have the ability to accomplish everything that the other person has accomplished. We see the other and recognize that it is only because we have failed to realize our full potential that leaves us stinging. I could have been the famous actor, but I didn't practice enough, or work at breaking into the industry. I could have been a billionaire, but I never bought that real estate I kept talking about.

With all due respect to Kapit, it is the absolute justice of what we see that turns us green with envy. We see that the other person has earned what he has acheived - and we haven't. It's much easier to turn to base emotion and blame others, than rise above it and see that it is only ourselves holding us back. Not all of us have what it takes to be a billionaire. And that's what hurts.

But spiritual jealousy? I'd bet we're much quicker to accept our own inferiority in that category.

Mon Oct 10, 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

hey Josh - that's what I said!

MH

Mon Oct 10, 09:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marbe nechassim marbe daagos

Mon Oct 10, 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Littleredridinghoodie said...

The yegeres haramban has the answer...

Mon Oct 10, 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Rav Yehuda HaNasi was loaded...didn't stop him from writing the Mishna.

Tue Oct 11, 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger RuchniGashmi said...

I invite you to check out my post regarding your reply to my blog.
http://ruchnigashmi.blogspot.com/2005/10/dangernet-ii.html

Tue Oct 11, 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

CJ - Given that you now have a neighbor with 500 mil, and that you seem to be quite interested in chinuch....I know of a school for high risk J teenagers that could use help - would you be interested in getting involved?

Thu Oct 13, 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

Where are you Cloo? We miss hearing from you.

Mon Oct 17, 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

And yet.

Did you read The History of Love? It contains that sentence that you used in this piece (and yet) many times.

Mon Oct 24, 11:04:00 AM  
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god bless

האט ביטחון וועט אללעס זיין גיט

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