Profligate behavior has always been a byproduct of great personal wealth, especially great wealth acquired relatively quickly. One of the great psychological rules of a great supply of money is that it searches for an outlet. Money burns a hole in one’s pocket. And thus many times, spending becomes foolish, ostentatious, unnecessary and sometimes even self-destructive.
And in our instant communication society where people feel impelled to tell everything about anything to everybody and to do so instantaneously, any act of such over the top spending becomes the story of the day.
A wealthy Jewish businessman in the United States spent a large amount of money to have a Jewish rapper (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) to perform at the bat mitzvah celebration for his daughter and her twelve-year old friends. For some reason, this important piece of news went viral on social media, with names and amounts of money all publicized to the iPhones amongst us.
This breathless piece of news was even broadcast nationally on a leading American radio network that I unfortunately was listening to. The rich cannot expect any rights of privacy in today’s world and therefore apparently extreme and foolish behavior will always be held up to public scrutiny and even ridicule. One would think that this reality would be taken into account before such a course of behavior is embarked upon. But as Kung Solomon pointed out long ago, wealth and good common sense do not necessarily accompany each other in one’s life.
There are many courses being offered as how to manage one’s wealth. These courses are meant to instruct the newly wealthy – sports stars, newly discovered entertainment and media personalities, start-up computer geeks, lottery winners, etc. – how to conserve and invest their new found wealth. But to the best of my knowledge, there is no course to help one deal psychologically, emotionally and even spiritually with sudden wealth.
Everyone needs an angel whispering in his or her ear: “Don’t act impulsively and foolishly, don’t hold yourself up to public scrutiny and shame!” That personal angel should, in the best circumstances, be one’s spouse and family. But in the absence of such an intimate angel, one should certainly engage a very good friend to navigate the rapids of sudden wealth.
Just as people engage financial advisers to help them sort through their income and investments, there is also a necessity for a wealth adviser to help them use them use their wealth wisely, with good sense and probity. This is especially necessary in a Jewish community exposed to the anti-Semitic mindset of associating Jews with money and imagined wanton luxuries.
All of the anti-Semitic cartoons of the last century and present-day society as well, associate Jews with being porcine, greedy, and purely money and spending oriented in the extreme. So a family event can unwittingly become a source of unwanted shame, notoriety….even bordering on desecration. No one does these things purposely. But the wise person, in the view of the Talmud, sees the consequences of one’s actions and behavior before acting on one’s wishes.
This is especially true when it comes to dealing with wealth, which often confounds the wisdom of otherwise smart people. Societal life is strewn with the debris of the errors in judgment and behavior of the rich and famous.
I have often quoted the dictum of the rabbis of the Talmud that Jews do much better handling circumstances of poverty than they do with extreme prosperity. We pray regularly for prosperity in our individual and national lives. Oftentimes we are able to live more easily with what we do not have than with what we do have. We are bewitched by our own successes, especially with our financial successes. We ascribe our successes to ourselves and our failures to others, unfortunate circumstances or the inscrutable whims of Heaven.
Yet, on true and honest analysis, so many of our ills and troubles, especially with money and wealth, are really self-inflicted. A little common sense can go a long way in preventing embarrassment and insult. No one except the rapper benefited from the Bat Mitzvah incident and its ramifications. One cannot help but be perplexed as to how a lavish party and a rapper performance are true markers of a young Jewish girl reaching the age of Torah commandments.
Oh, how rare is common sense, restraint and traditional respect to Jewish institutions! Extreme prosperity is destroying our souls and our families. We should remind ourselves that the prayer for good sense precedes the prayer for wealth and prosperity. There is good reason for that.