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?


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.