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How Do the ‘Forbes 400’ Compare to an East African Tribe?

How Do the ‘Forbes 400’ Compare to an East African Tribe?


It seems like everyone is struggling to make ends meet these days. And that’s why I recently bought a lotto ticket. The allure of winning $6 million enticed me to take the gamble. $6 million. That would cut out virtually all life stresses and leave doors of opportunity wide open.

Well, I didn’t have the lucky number this time. But I did do a little research into the correlation between wealth and life satisfaction. It seems that the old adage “money can’t buy happiness” has some truth to it. Although wealth has as much as tripled in the past 50 years, mental illness has increased at an equally rapid rate. A 1985 survey showed that respondents from the “Forbes 400” list and members of the Maasai African tribe—a people with no electricity or running water—ranked around equally in terms of satisfaction with life.

To the fiscally challenged, these implications seem ludicrous. We’ll go with Tevye’s logic and say, “G‑d, please test me!”Even if wealth brings along its own challenges, we’ll go with Tevye’s logic and say, “G‑d, please test me!” We’d take the challenge of prosperity over the challenge of poverty any day. The grass always looks greener on the other side.

In the Talmud, the sages tell us that before a child is born, the heavenly court decides whether he or she is destined to live a life of riches or a life of modest means. Whatever scenario he or she is given will be part of their life’s test. And of the two, the test of wealth is more severe. The challenge that money presents is the notion of independence from G‑d. When a person works to create success and security for himself, it is hard to feel tenderly dependent on the Creator. It is equally hard for the wealthy not to feel intrinsically superior to the average person. To remain humble and G‑d-centered in the face of prosperity is a colossal challenge.

Being broke, on the other hand, is also a test from G‑d. Can you trust that the creator of the world will provide for your needs? Are you able to maintain the belief that G‑d is good, despite the bad times? This is the challenging face of poverty.

When the Jews finally entered into the Land of Israel, where they would set up a national economic system, they were well-trained to have a very healthy perspective towards money. Surprisingly, it was not through lectures or Torah classes that they gleaned this healthy perspective, but through 40 years of eating manna.

The manna made the Jew feel both rich and poor simultaneously. Rich, because manna was heavenly bread and would miraculously taste like anything its eater requested. It was absolute wonder bread. But it made them feel poor since it necessitated pocket-to-mouth living. Only enough manna fell for the day’s feed. If one left over food for tomorrow, the leftovers would spoil.G‑d cares, and He will provide again tomorrow There was no sense of provisions surplus; although you were fed today, there was no absolute security for tomorrow. This is the fear of the business owner whose business makes just enough to stay afloat. I paid my bills today, but the future is unknown.

For 40 years, the people had to come to terms with their rationed food. Each day, they had the opportunity to practice two helpful meditations: a) All abundance comes from G‑d; and b) G‑d cares, and He will provide again tomorrow.

Perhaps this is why Moses preserved a bit of the manna, and it remained for almost 1,000 years after its time. It symbolized this balanced meditation that can take a lifetime to master. But when practiced often enough, it affords enormous serenity to the affluent and the indigent alike.

(Adapted from a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Mrs Rochel Holzkenner is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, Fla., serving the community of young professionals. She is a high-school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life.
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Anonymous Wallingford, CT United States January 13, 2011

poverty, riches and mental illness Let me suggest that perhaps mental illness has not increased so much as stigma has lessened enough that more people seek treatment for their mental illnesses.

As a psychotherapist for many years, I am not convinced that there is more illness. Reply

Gershon Garber Casselberry, FL via September 10, 2009

G-d and Gender To Ira, the reason I left my Reform upbringing is because "the powers that be" published a siddur removing all gender references to Hashem. G-d has no gender, I'm sure you will agree. But He is likened to a King - the King of Kings. And during this month of Elul, the "King is in the Field" with us common folk, and is spiritually more approachable. G-d definitely has a feminine essence as the Shechina who resides with us in our worldly realm. Since our G-d has no form, we attach no gender to him. However, I left my Reform upbringing when they decided to change the Avoteinu prayer and add Imotanu to a prayer thousands of years old. has many articles addressing your concern. When I think of Abraham Aveinu, his wife Sarah is considered with him in all respects. Likewise with all our Patriarchs. Their wives are "part of" the one soul which marriage brings. An analogy would be for me to put a label on my coffee maker which says, "for coffee." Reply

ira reschman (Yisrael ben Joseph-1st name given) Tampa, FL/USA September 5, 2009

Questions... Hello Rochel,
Good article and love the picture and what it might represent, perhaps the need for a Billionaires tax?
Have this belief that this g-d of Abraham (pbuh) uses some “folly” (there are a lot of Jewish comics) as well as “fear” to try and keep us on a progressive path. People like Madoff and some like Soros, you will see people with money or whatever trinkets, make similar mistakes or mitzvahs, depends on our interpretation of a path we’re all on...
In your short bio up above, it mentions Kabbalah and Feminism. When will we start using something other than “He” or “Him” to describe what we are not? Why must we continue to perpetuate this myth that g-d is this male-human figure? We were created in IT's image, not the other way around. Maybe IT wants us now to come together, unite, acknowledge and thank IT. Just a thought. Oh, where is Las Olas, FL? Once again, curious.
Thanks for your time and wish you the best in your endeavors.
Sincerely, Reply

Tone Lechtzier Brothers, OR US September 4, 2009

Neill / $$$ Shalom,
so true. Reply

Neill via September 4, 2009

Handling finances & money The majority of people in this country, regardless of their education and, even wealth do not have any formal training as to how money works. Yes, that sounds over simplified, but it's not. With a master's in management I have little understanding of money but, with time have learned a lot through experience. The evidence is clear, the condition that this country is in today financially, on both an individual and collective basis is proof that Americans have no training in handling or making money work and grow. The result is guys like Madoff, Stanford and all the other con artists out there take advantage of the ignorance of people who have done well, yet, don't have any real understanding about money or investing. That's really sad especially, when the information is available. Reply

Rochel Holzkenner FL September 3, 2009

To Anonymous, London This essay was adapted from a talk recorded in Likkutei Sichot volume 4 page 1099. Reply

Gershon Garber Casselberry, FL via September 3, 2009

Wealth There is certainly nothing wrong with obtaining monetary wealth, but money only has value - not purpose. Only I can create meaningful purpose with that money.

I know plenty of wealthy people who constantly complain about some "thing" which they bought with their money. The less "things" I have, the fewer problems I have.

I read a quote recently (not sure where) - Those who think money can buy happiness have not likely had much of either. Reply

Gershon Garber Casselberry, FL via September 3, 2009

Money has value, but not purpose. Nice artice. However, the quote from Tevye, " G-d, please test me" is not a Judaic belief. A Jew should never want to be "tested" in any capacity. True, we go through difficult times (as I am currently), and it may very well be a test from G-d, however complete emuna and bitochon (trust and faith) prohibit me from thinking in that perspective. We are human, and should only pray for revealed good. Sometimes this "good" is hidden, nonetheless there. It isn't ok to "come to terms" (meaning acceptance of an adverse situation) rather to be motivated to change my situation for success and happiness.

On another note, while our destinies are predetermined at our birthing moment, we can beseech G-d to change his judgment on our future.

I've not bought a lotto ticket in over two years - not that there is any prohibition against lottery, but with that dollar as tzedakah, I can be assured that G-d takes pleasure and I am helping my shul.

All the best! L'shana tova u'metukah Reply

Anonymous London September 3, 2009

Which talk is this adapted from? (I'd like to look it up)

Thanks Reply

Tone Lechtzier Brothers, OR US September 3, 2009

Rich- In Between - Poor Shalom,
great article. In my 62 years, I have
observed the contents. The rich do live in an illusion of independence generally, not
all. This was pointed out to me by my father Saul, [ of beloved memory ] at an early age, and well illustrated by family members. Most of the in between seemingly share this illusion with the rich, to varying degrees. The poor, have demonstrated to me the most trust in G-d. Willingness to share what little they have. I'm not writing theory here, rather personal experience. Lets go a step farther, poor + sick, this situation is extremely conducive to trust in G-d, when one realizes they are totally dependent upon G-d. As did our ancestors with Moshe in the desert. Upon reaching this plateau, awaits a comfort beyond my words. Ezekiel, " All comes from G-d, " Rich, in between, share it, give good, get good. Poor, a veiled blessing there is no other way to get. Reply

Anonymous London September 2, 2009

Thank You Just today I was talking to a friend about how today's society educates towards making a living (money) as apposed to making a life.

The 1985 statistic is great! Reply

Rosa Hollander Brooklyn, NY United States September 2, 2009

THis article This is an amazing article which explains how Hashem wants us to view money. I always find myself in awe when I crave something and it arrives through a gift. For example, I wanted a luxurious set of sheets yet couldn't afford them. Then, my mother came back from visitng a friend, who gave her just such a set. Money comes to me in myriad ways that didn't require me earning it. Yet I find myself anxious and worried daily about finances. So I try hard to remember: if Hashem wanted me to have it, I would. And I may gain it in a way that doesn't necessarily mean I have to purchase it for myself. If I don't have what I want, I don't need it. And always, that Hashem knows what we need to fulfill our mission. I also enter lots of online contests..just in case I can win stuff! Reply

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