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Guidelines for the Wealthy

Guidelines for the Wealthy

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Question:

Should one who is blessed with vast wealth spend it on luxuries? Is a wealthy person expected to live with restraint, or is it okay for him to spend his hard-earned money on living a lifestyle beyond that which an ordinary person can afford? How much should such a person give of his earnings to charity?

Answer:

You're raising some very interesting questions. On the one hand, a person blessed with great wealth should seemingly enjoy his blessings—isn't that why G‑d chose to bless him with affluence? And yet, we have to consider whether there's something improper about maintaining a standard of living considerably higher than those around you.

There are stories told in praise of very wealthy individuals who lived simply and austerely, never exhibiting the means they had at their disposal.

To balance that, there's the tale about a rich man who explained to his rabbi that he intended to live as a regular individual, to eat meat only once a week, generally suffice with bread and vegetables, etc. To his surprise, the rabbi disagreed and said, "It's preferable that you live very comfortably and eat meat every day."

When the rabbi's students expressed surprise at their mentor's advice, he explained: "This way, if he lives according to his means, perhaps he'll give meat to the poor once a week, and bread and vegetables more often..."

In other words, knowing this man well, the rabbi realized that practicing self-restraint would only serve to make him less likely to be charitable. After all, if he could suffice with less, why couldn't others? And once he would become accustomed to being economical, it would be harder for him to part with his money for any reason. This is human nature, and something one should seriously consider. If living simply will result in less charity and generosity—it's not preferable.

On the other hand, it is also important not to set a standard that will come to hurt others. If having a ten-piece band by your child's wedding will have the peer-pressure effect of causing others who really can't afford it to feel that they have to do the same, then perhaps you should reconsider.

As for charity, technically, one is required to give ten percent of his earnings to charity, and giving more, up to twenty percent, is considered praiseworthy. Someone who can easily afford to, should certainly aspire for the twenty percent mark.

However, as Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains, charity – and specifically unstinting and munificent charity – is the most effective way of achieving atonement for past misdeeds and educing G‑d's infinite kindness. As such, even one who isn't wealthy can give more than twenty percent if he wishes—and certainly someone who has erred in the past and wishes to be restored to G‑d's good graces. And how much more so if giving more than twenty percent will not hurt the giver financially.

What's most important in all this is that we all realize that our blessings come directly from G‑d, intentionally and with reason. A wealthy individual is charged with the responsibility of utilizing that wealth in a way that G‑d Himself will appreciate and can celebrate.

Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Anonymous USA February 23, 2016

Humble Thoughts My cousins daughter wasn't wealthy but she had enough to give to charity , they had a nice little house, they had some nice clothes and a decent neighborhood where people could, thankfully, walk safely. I learned from her to be happy with what you have. She lived near neighborhoods of wealth and extreme wealth. She didn't go out to eat once a week. Neihther did I.She never had an iphone. She didn't go on fancy trips.She does not own designer clothes. You can go without some of these things. But best to teach your kids these are choices , not requirements. Charity is something for anyone who is a mensch. My Dad taught us to give a little every week.He never said give less , after all there are rich folk who can give more. He stared us with small money in the Pischka.
Some say give and you will get. I may be different but I was told give, no one said you will get in return. No one said you have to be rich to be happy. Be I see you can give and feel really good. Reply

Mark R Reston, VA December 24, 2010

a remarkable discussion Once I was discussing a related question with a group of friends. If each of us were given a chance to become a leader of a poor community in our city, what would we do for them?

My choice surprised everyone: I said, I would establish schools of philosophy, so I could teach them that most of them really aren't poor at all. They do not lack anything in the material realm. They only see themselves poor because the wealthier part of society convinces them of it. In fact the only reason they are often unhappy is because they believe they are poor, and therefore see themselves less worthy, and therefore often treat themselves and each other unkindly.

Most of my friends strongly disagreed with this. What do you guys think? Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA September 28, 2010

Money When people don't spend others go jobless. And, I think to myself, who needs more jobs? Can't we all work less, and make due with what we have? In my family of three, we get by on roughly $20,000, enough to pay the rent and get a soda for a monthly treat at McDonald's. I feel like I am rich though, and I am compared to the rest of the world. I am rich as long as I have a roof over my head and don't have to worry about my belly being full. My son makes me feel rich too. He is 2yrs old, and he is generous with everything he has! So much for the terrible 2s! Often he shares his Popsicle with me, or something like that, such that I know he won't be greedy. As far as the idea of someone earning a salary of more than $200,000 a year, I think that there is nothing someone can do to earn that much money and they ought to give the rest to charity. When one person keeps that much money for himself/herself there are other people out there that deserve to have more, a broken system. Reply

Ben NY, NY, USA August 25, 2010

Let's see, what could the family do without?

Cable TV?
Blackberry?
iPhone?
Eating out three times a week?
Going to the theatre every week?
Long, costly vacations?
Hiring loads of help instead of having hte kids pick up their toys?
Buying the kids new toys every week?
Buying designer clothes for kids who'll outgrow them in 3 months?

Do you need to live in a humongous house, with a huge mortgage, property tax, insurance, and untilities? Reply

Rocky L Stone Tulsa, OK August 23, 2010

Before or after tax The government mint gets a piece of gross pay, should the Lord's portion be based upon any less?
Having all we need is considered great wealth, to those that have less than they need. Living beyond what we need is to be avoided. I doubt we would give beyond our means, but it might be good to reach that height. Reply

rahel July 25, 2010

maaser/tithe on the net according to a search of this chabad site, we are to give ma'aser/tithe on the net.

that was a good question... Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Coral Springs July 18, 2010

Tithing is from net profit, not gross, and after taxes. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY July 17, 2010

20% of ________ ? Do we give 20% of our income before taxes or after? It's a big difference. Reply

Katherine Lipkin Akron, OH June 19, 2010

Wow - what about poor starving children? Following this line of thought, G-d also intends for some families to be destitute, which can lead to child malnutrition and a host of other problems.

As a grad student, I once ran a self-esteem group with schoolchildren who attended one of the poorest schools in my city. At the end of the 6 week session, we had a pizza party. A tiny, skinny little girl couldn't stop eating. Eating and eating.
"Did anyone give you breakfast this morning," I asked her - already knowing the answer.
The G-d I believe in does not make some families rich and others, poor. I know an argument would be: the pain of others should cause us to be extra merciful and perform tzedakah always. But there's not enough money given out, and children (and their parents) suffer. Reply

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