It's Not That Easy Being Green
"Did you read the story about your neighbor in yesterday's Post?" a friend asked.
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.
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.