The global economic malaise has everyone concerned about their own economic viability. These are difficult times for individual families and Torah institutions. What does Chazal tell us about money?
We know that Haman offered 10,000 talents of silver to Achashverosh to eradicate the Jewish people. Reish Lakish tells us:
גלוי וידוע לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שעתיד המן לשקול שקלים על ישראל לפיכך הקדים שקליהן לשקליו והיינו דתן באחד באדר משמיען על השקלים.
Klal Yisroel’s shekel contribution was the antidote to Haman’s diabolical plot. In Esther Rabbah it says : אחשורוש ראש למוכרים המן ראש לקונים
Haman and Achashveirosh created a new market to sell a nation. Esther confirms as much when she says “We have been sold, I and my people.”
Nations invented the concept of money to progress beyond the barter system. Rashi in Breisheis tells us that Avraham minted his own coin. “I will make your teva, your coin, known throughout the world.” (Rashi Breishis 12:1) Currency encompasses everything. Money contains within itself the realm of possibility. In the Shema the words, בכל מאדך are defined by Rashi (Brachos 54a) ובכל מאדך בכל ממונך. The word מאד
always amplifies beyond all limits. טוב מאד very good, takes good, which speaks of all aspects of goodness, and allows for this good to multiply. Money has the capacity to increase and decrease. It remains unconfined by any limitations.
Money is a value indicator. That which is “yakar” is precious or honorable. That which is “zol” is inexpensive, from the word “zilzul”, disgraced or dishonored. If no real value stands behind currency, than its negotiability lessens until it becomes worthless. When a kingdom introduces a currency, its intent is to widen their constituents’ field of opportunity. In today’s economic situation the true economic model has been stripped of its disguise. The market creates artificial needs which foment a market of buying and selling. When the inevitable contraction in the economy takes place, the false material needs are no longer able to drive the economic machine. The true Jewish concept of value can be seen in the encounter of Yaakov and Esau when Yaakov presents Esau with livestock. Esau says יש לי רב “I have much”. Yaakov responds כי חנני אלקים ויש לי כל “The Lord has been gracious to me and I have all” (Breishis 33: 9-11). This exchange captures the true difference in their values. Esau values abundance. Yaakov requires that which can be bundled and united into a single entity. The more abundance the less completeness. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת תפסת מועט תפסת (יומא פ.) Our goal is to take the few and unify this into one.
World economies are based on abundance – more demand, which in turn means more value, and more artificial needs. This inevitably reaches a stage of collapse. This is why we see these economic peaks and falls throughout history. We have one Mitzvah that requires money, the half shekel. The economic activity had one purpose, each participant obtained a place in Klal Yisroel. Each part becomes a whole.
Haman’s goal in buying the Jews with money is to show that we have no value to Achashveirosh. Haman tries to prove that this nation is unlike any other nation. They bring no gain to the Kingdom. Our shekel says that within the realm of abundance we cannot compete. Someone will always be able to acquire us for 10,000 talents of silver. We are the opposite of abundant, we are few. What we can offer is a different value system. Abundance is a disadvantage. That is what the half shekel tells us. We obtain the status of community with our money. This causes our community to seek only that which manifests the sense of community. The learning of Torah in groups, praying together, doing mitzvos together. Our shekels must precede Haman’s.
On Shvii Shel Pesach Bnei Yisroel collected the Bizas Hayam from the Mitzrim. We received no money for our slave labor for 210 years in Mitzrayim and now we received our compensation. The precedent for our compensation was when Yaakov Avinu left Lavan the Torah says: Vayatzel Elokim es Mikneh Avichem Vayitein Li (Breishis 31:9). That was the precedent for the compensation of the Bnei Yisroel when they left Mitzrayim where the Torah says: Vayinatzlu es Mitzraim (Shmos 12:36). The same word: Vayatzel and Vayenatzlu. Why? The effort s of Yaakov Avinu in receiving the “money” he deserved from Lavan was a maaseh avos siman labanim for Bnei Yisroel to receive their payment for their efforts — and that led to the ultimate Bizas Hayam. This is the precedent for our future rewards too. Our amelus and investment in our learning and avodas Hashem will bear fruit in spiritual wealth in the future.
Rabbi Shimon Kurland
Dean, Darchei Binah