(Torah Portion Beshalach) One Billion Five!
There was much hype and excitement leading up to last week’s 1.5 billion dollar Powerball lottery jackpot.
Human nature is to dream how we would spend the winnings, and think that our personalities wouldn’t change with an instantaneous windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.
There is a poignant story that I heard a while back that puts things into perspective. There was this pauper in town whose daily ritual was to sift through the rubbish to find morsels of food or loose change to feed and support his family.
One day a caring person approached the pauper and relayed that there was a large lottery that was going to be drawn, and implored the pauper to purchase a ticket.
The pauper responded that he didn’t have the two dollars to buy a ticket. “I will loan you the money,’ the caring person offered. “No, I owe so much money already; I will not borrow money for the ticket.”
“Okay, I will purchase a ticket for you.”
The caring person bought the ticket and held onto it.
When the numbers were drawn, he saw that the ticket he purchased was the winner! Although it was late at night as well as frigid, he trekked to the pauper’s hovel on other side of town and knocked on the door to share the great news that he was the winner.
It took a few more knocks to awaken the man and he finally came to the door. “Who is it?” he asked without opening the door. “It is me, I came to tell us the wonderful news that you won the lottery, you are now a wealthy man, your life will be changed for the better!”
He expected the door to swing open for a great celebration but he was surprised by a loud and irate voice from the other side of the door, “You know, if someone else would have woken me up, I wouldn’t be so mad, but you know that I am now a wealthy man. How dare you wake a man of my stature from his sleep!”
The Torah tells us that before the Jews left Egypt G-d told Moshe to instruct the Jews to borrow gold, silver and garments from the Egyptians. The Egyptians responded by giving them their riches. The Talmud tells us something astounding; each Jew left with over ninety donkey loads of riches. Furthermore, after the Jews miraculously crossed the split Red sea to safety and the Egyptians were drowned, the waters spat out the Egyptians on the side of the sea, so that the Jews should clearly see that they died.
The Egyptians had adorned themselves with jewels and riches for the battle and the Jews accumulated extreme wealth from that as well.
We can say that each Jew hit the jackpot during the Exodus process. How did they react to their newfound wealth? Also, for what did the Jews need the wealth? After all, they were traveling in the desert with their food and drink taken care of by the Manna and the water spilling out of the rock, and their clothes were laundered by the clouds and grew along with them.
The Torah tells us that the Jews at the miracle of the sea, “Believed in G-d and His servant Moshe.”
Moshe sang a prophetic song of Az Yashir which the Jews repeated after him.
In one of the verses of the song the Jews proclaimed that they will not just perform the Mitzvos, but they will beautify the Mitzvos and spend on enhancing the Mitzvos. The verse also alludes to the compassionate way the Jews will perform the Mitzvos, not thinking that they are fulfilling it better than another Jew.
Additionally, this verse tells us that the Jews had in mind to use the precious material and wealth they got from the Egyptians to contribute towards the creation of the Tabernacle. In fact, they eagerly and immediately donated generously for the Tabernacle to the point that Moshe had to issue a statement that they should stop donating, for they had met their goal.
Basically, the Jews didn’t let their wealth go to their heads.
Possibly, because everyone had a similar amount of wealth they didn’t feel arrogant towards one another.
There was a person, Korach, who led a rebellion against Moshe. The Talmud tells us that Korach acquired his extreme wealth by accessing two of Pharoh’s treasure houses. His wealth required 300 donkeys to transport, and he chose white ones.
Targum Yonason tells us that Korach’s wealth caused his rebellion against Moshe, and it ultimately brought his demise.
Another person who became very wealthy was Moshe. G-d bequeathed to Moshe the shards of sapphire that fell from the Tablets when they were carved. Yet Moshe, due to his humility and devotion to G-d didn’t exhibit the slightest change in character because of his wealth.
Bottom line: Our Sages teach us “Who is wealthy? Someone who is satisfied with his lot!”
But every once in a while it is exciting to dream of all the good we would do if we won 1.5 billion dollars.
Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks