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What lies behind the tendency of humans to splurge, flaunt and luxuriate in their wealth?

Good as Gold

Good as Gold


A recent New York Times article examined what Americans are doing with their money these days. One family installed palm trees on their Hamptons property which they fly to Florida each winter (the palm trees, not the property). A woman hired a "personal secretary" to tend to her hairdresser appointments, and then hired an assistant to the secretary. "It's like cats," she explained. "You need two of them so that they can keep each other company while you're away."

A similar problem plagued the Children of Israel more than 33 centuries ago. They had drained Egypt of its wealth, and then the Red Sea spewed out the jewels that had adorned the drowned Egyptians. So they, too, had too much gold. But back then, people had a more direct approach to things. Instead of devising all these ingenious ways of saying, "Hey, look! I have more money than I know what to do with! But don't worry! I'll keep on doing my darnest to have even more!", they cast a calf of pure gold, put it up on a pedestal, and worshipped it.

How did G‑d address the gold-sickness of His newly chosen people? He didn't abolish gold. He didn't even take away theirs. He told them to use their gold to build Him a Sanctuary.

Compulsive overeating is a horrible disease: it's unhealthy, it can even kill you. But the urge to eat is not only healthy---it's vital to life itself.

The same is true of every negative phenomenon. There is nothing intrinsically bad in G‑d's world: every evil is a perverted good, every psychosis a healthy instinct gone awry.

So before we get all riled up over that woman with the two secretaries, let us try to understand the tendency of humans to splurge, flaunt and luxuriate in their wealth. We understand why we need food; we understand why we need shelter; but why do we crave gold?

In essence, the craving for gold is a yearning for transcendence. It is man saying: I am not content to merely exist and subsist; I want to exalt in life, I want to touch its magnificence and sublimity.

Of course, flying your palm trees to Miami each winter is not sublime. It's pathetic. It is a gross distortion of the most noble strivings of the human soul. The answer, however, is not to squelch these strivings, but to purge them of their negative expressions. Use your yearning for gold to make a home for G‑d.

Based on the talks and writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson; rendered by Yanki Tauber.
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ahmed alireza jeddah, saudi arabia June 19, 2010

good article where i live, we have this guy called prince al-waleed who is a billionaire who loves himself so much that he never misses an opportunity to list and inventory his total wealth and belongings... he lives in a 700 room palace with hundreds of servants... 400 cars... yachts... planes... u name it and this guy has it... and boy does he brag... i look at all this and say what a fool this man is... i say it's best to enjoy wealth and good fortune in silence... the striving for personal glorification by displaying wealth publicly and loudly can only be a sign of charecter deficiency and weakness... i say that the open vulgar display of wealth can only be a bad thing for its owner who will only succeed in bringing apon himself the evil of envy and hate... quite the opposite of that public recognition of glory that they strive for... Reply

Mark R Reston, VA via February 15, 2009

absurd behavior I don't understand how could people be so idiotic back then. I mean, if I heard someone say, "hey guys, how about we take out your money from the banks in form of paper bills, and build a giant badger out of it". Duh..

To build a giant golden statue while traveling? That doesn't even make any sense logistally! How where they going to transport that thing through the desert?? Reply

Anonymous March 10, 2007

gold-sickness How did G-d address the gold sickness of this people? Exodus 32:20 Moshe ground the golden calf to dust and after casting it upon the water made the people drink it. This should be included in the article. Reply

Sarah M. w. bloomfield, mi via March 8, 2007

Suzanne, your own words are close to the answer to your question. When we use things in order to obey commandments we make the place those things are (the world) a home for G-d. So when I use my home to feed and house guests, my home becomes a place for G-d. My kitchen looks beautiful, but the true beauty is that it is kosher, and will soon be ready for Passover. It is also a welcoming of G-d, into my kitchen, my home, and my life. Reply

Paul Wickberg Stockholm, Sweden March 7, 2007

Gold This article was so good i must print it. :)

More articles like this one please... Reply

Suzanne Fort Carson, CO USA January 3, 2006

the next question I am a Nanticoke Native American, and though I am not Jewish, I often like the counsel I find among the tenets of Judaism. I have been grappeling with the conspicuous consumption around me. My own religious traditions tell me that wealth in the service of self is powerless, but that in the service of community, family, environment, can be transforming. I would like to hear what is meant here by 'make a home for G-d', and just wanted to suggest it as a follow-up article. Reply

Rochelle Brooklyn, NY February 24, 2005

Using Gold Excellent essay on using are natural instincts for GOOD things and a great parsha thought. Thank you. Reply

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