Regardless of your wealth or affluence, a life of modesty and humility is a recipe for true happiness.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Devarim” (Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22), and with it, we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah. The book of Deuteronomy in general, and this week’s Torah portion in particular, is essentially Moses’ final sermon to the Jewish people before he dies. It is a combination of history, rebuke, inspiration, and advice to the Jewish people as they prepare themselves to enter the Promised Land.
In reviewing their journey in the desert, Moses recalls that God said to him at one point “You have traveled long enough; now turn north.” (Deut 2:3) The Hebrew word for “north” is “tzafona.” However, the word “tzafona” can also be translated as “hidden.”
Indeed, the point at the Passover Seder where we eat the Afikoman is called the “tzafun” alluding to the widespread custom to hide the Afikoman before it is eaten! (The children get to find the Afikoman and then hold it for ransom before returning it and allowing the Seder to proceed.) Hence, based on poetic license from the Hebrew original, this verse can be homiletically read, “You have enough material possessions. Be sure to hide them!”
Rabbis point to this verse as the source that people should “hide” their wealth. Contrary to the “if you have it, flaunt it” custom of the day, Judaism teaches just the opposite: “if you have it, hide it.”
Although anti-Semites don’t need an excuse to hate Jews, one of the triggers for anti-Semitism has historically been the success and wealth that Jewish communities often enjoyed.
Jews and Jewish communities that kept a low profile were spared from some forms and expressions of anti-Semitism. However, communities in which the Jews were known to flaunt their wealth often faced stronger waves of anti-Semitism.
Although there is no justification for anti-Semitism, it is simply not a Jewish trait to advertise and flaunt one’s success and wealth. When Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food during the famine that plagued the Land of Israel he told them not to let anyone know that they still had some food supplies at home. This is because everyone else who went to purchase food were generally already famished and starving. They went after all was consumed.
Jacob, thinking ahead, sent his sons to buy food before it completely ran out. Why make people jealous? In the words of Talmud, “There are some things for which silence is better.”
A person should not live in a more extravagant manner than the average in his community. If the community is a Kia community, don’t go buy yourself a Corvette, even if you can afford it.
We are to live our lives according to Torah values, not society’s values. We don’t believe in showing off. We don’t believe in “keeping up with the Joneses.” We don’t believe in broadcasting our successes.
A life of modesty and humility is to be admired and respected. It will also make you happier. And If I ever with the lotto…you will never know.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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