The past month was an expensive one. My youngest son will soon become bar mitzvah, and the tefillin alone cost nearly $4,000. This was on top of the usual holiday expenses. As I watched my bank balance sink, my heart sank even lower. I felt a familiar choking sensation, a sense of overwhelm as I faced the mountain of bills.

Panic was one thing I simply could not afford. I took a deep breath and tried to divert my mind from anxious thoughts to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude that my youngest son is reaching this milestone. Gratitude that the money was available to cover these expenses. Gratitude that the funds were used for joyous events and not mishaps, G‑d forbid. With G‑d’s help, money will be there for future expenses as well.

Financial pressure makes up a large portion of our overall life stress, and is a tremendous driver of internal and external conflicts of all sorts. Although we recognize all the problems that money can bring, we are dependent on it and can’t live without it. We fight over money, long for money, yet as Kohelet says, one who loves money can never be satisfied with money.1

A big part of our money problem is that we ask money to do for us what money can’t do. We ascribe power to money that it simply does not have. We equate money with security, success, power, comfort or self-esteem. It follows then that when we lack money, it feels like we lack everything that makes life worthwhile and meaningful.

The word for money in Hebrew, kesef, has the same root as koseif—longing or desire.2 In this world, our longing, desire and striving revolves around money. But the soul has yearnings of its own to rise beyond the limitations of this world. G‑d also has a yearning and desire. He longs for our work and actions, l’ma’aseh yadecha tichsof.3 His desire is for us to see through the mirage of money and turn to Him as our source of support.

Drowning in Deep Waters

“Great waters cannot extinguish our love.”4

It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t care about money, that our worth as humans doesn’t depend on it. But the reality is that most of us don’t have the luxury not to think about money. We think about it every day when we open bills we can’t pay; when we shop for food that has jumped 20% in price in the last month.

The urgency and struggle to earn a living can feel like being submerged in a deep sea, treading desperately just to keep our heads above water.

When G‑d was planning to send the Great Flood, he told Noah to build an ark, a teivah. Teivah in Hebrew also means “word.” Chassidic teachings explain that the refuge for the flood waters of the world are the words of Torah and prayer.5

It might seem that the pressure of earning a living is a distraction from proper service of G‑d. Chassidus gives a different twist on the role of the floodwaters. As they rose, they lifted the ark until it floated 15 cubits above the ground. In other words, the great sea of worldly cares that seems to be drowning us is actually carrying us and elevating our Torah study and prayer to greater heights.6 The effort that we put into earning an honest living is in itself an elevation for the soul.

The True Meaning of Noah’s Flood

I don’t like having to struggle with money. I wish I didn’t have to check the bank balance every time I go grocery shopping and try to decide what we can do without. I’d love to take refuge in the words of Torah and prayer. But how will that help the bills get paid? What does G‑d really want?

Rising storm waters usually invoke in us a sense of panic. Yet Noah’s flood in the Torah denotes the very opposite. The word Noach shares a root with menuchah—calm, rest, tranquility. How do we understand this oxymoron?

Chassidic teachings explain that the fierceness of the flood waters was due to an intense outpouring of blessing from above. However, the world at the time was unfit to contain it and was therefore washed away, leaving only Noah and his family.

The stormy periods we face in our own lives are an opportunity to pause and reassess what we truly value in life. Where we need to go and what we need to do to earn a living is part of the mystery of our soul’s journey to earth. When we’re able to let go and embrace G‑d’s plan for us, money woes no longer invoke a sense of panic. They force us to tap deep inside of ourselves to discover our reserves of infinite strength.

And once these powers are accessed, we are unstoppable. Nothing that the world throws at us can faze us; nothing will rock us off-course. The flood waters push us to actualize all our inner strengths, and thus become transformed into a rain of blessing and tranquility.