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The One Dollar Life

The One Dollar Life

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What is the most spiritual thing you own?

Your home? Your car? Obviously not. Maybe your books? Perhaps a religious object with which you loose yourself from your everyday existence to commune with a higher reality?

Open your wallet. Take out a single dollar bill. Place it on the table in front of you. Take a long, contemplative look at it.

In many ways, this is the most spiritual thing in your possession.

But first we should explain what we mean by "spiritual." The definitions of "material" and "spiritual" vary, of course, by the context in which the terms are used. But a fairly common definition would be that the material things are concrete and discrete, while the more abstract and encompassing a thing is, the more spiritual it is.

What, in essence, is money? The ultimate abstraction of the human product. One person expends his time, energy and talent baking bread. A second writes poetry. A third and fourth and fifth carpenters furniture, grows tomatoes and writes legal briefs. Others drive trucks, teach schoolchildren, manage sales crews, pour steel, concoct medicines, repair power lines or debate philosophy. Each of these things, on its own, is concrete and discrete, confined to itself. A page of poetry will not produce a loaf of bread, and a bushel of tomatoes will not light a road at night. But the human being has found a way to abstract all these things to their common essence -- to a unit of human creativity and need. Thus abstracted, they can be transferred, bartered, converted.

Look again at the piece of paper on the table in front of you. What is it? It's a loaf of bread, a minute of wisdom, a dozen kilowatt hours of electricity, half a glass of wine, a tenth of a toy, a twenty-thousandth of a car, a three-hundred-millionth of a Van Gogh. A piece of human life that can be folded and put in your pocket.


But there is also another definition of spirituality: that which brings you closer to G‑d. In this sense, too, money can be the most spiritual thing you possess.

The Torah includes 613 mitzvot -- six hundred and thirteen actions which, because G‑d has willed that we do them, connect us with Him. But when our sages say simply "the mitzvah," they are referring to the mitzvah of charity.

In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains: Each mitzvah binds a person to G‑d via a specific limb, faculty and area of his life. When we study Torah, for example, our brain and our intellect are the vehicles which come to embody the divine will and connect us with G‑d. Praying employs our faculty of speech and the emotion of love in our hearts. Other mitzvot employ our hands or feet, our capacity for joy or sadness or awe or hope, the way we eat or dress or build a home or the manner in which we give birth or bury our dead or enter into marriage.

There is one mitzvah, however, that is performed with the totality of the person. When we give a coin to charity, we give our very lives. Because with this coin, we could have purchased the piece of bread that holds body and soul together. And to earn this coin, we devoted our entire being.

With every other mitzvah, we connect to G‑d with something -- with our mind, our stomach, our home. With "the mitzvah" of charity, we ourselves are the connection. The coin or bill we give is not, physically, a part of us. But it is the essence of what we are.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Illustration by Yudit Blesofsky
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Anonymous Worcester, MA USA August 11, 2004

bh
I know from personal experience that this is a very important mitzvah, for I have been on the receiving end of that mitzvah many times during the past 10 years as a single mother trying to raise three children frum on a very small paycheck.
I have been the recipient of a loan from the Free Loan Society of my city as well as outright gifts from friends who would send me money orders to protect their anonymity and thereby prevent my embarrassment. I have been the recipient of gifts of food - a full, hot meal for many Purims in a row - from one lovely lady. And I have been the recipient of anonymously-donated envelopes of cash from people who knew there was a single mother in need in their midst.
All this has been me feel extremely grateful to Hashem for living in a frum community, a community that knows the value of giving tzedakah in general and who cares about me and my children in particular.
Things are better for us now: I give as much and as often as I can. Baruch Hashem! Reply

Anonymous August 9, 2004

After I read this I placed a dollar bill in front of me. I looked at it for a long time. Was this the same dollar bill which I had spent, along with others, on 'stuff?' And where is that stuff now? -- Is that one of the dollar bills I dropped on the street... one here, another there, yet another further on, etc, etc, wondering who would find it all? (Who did find it all, I wonder? Was it a drug addict, was it someone who was hungry? Or perhaps, it being somewhat windy that night, was most of it blown away, still 'out there' somewhere?).

At some point it no longer felt as if I was looking at the dollar bill I had placed in front of me. It felt as if IT was looking at me...showing me the places it had been to and the hands that had reached for it. After a while, I began to cry.

Because, though I did help feed the hungry and did other good things with money, there have also been too many times when, instead of using money, I've abused it.

Thank you so much for writing this.

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