With the end of a year, many people look back and sum up the events of the past twelve months. For some the major concern is how much money they made or failed to make, whether interest rates went up or did not go up, whether they got into the “rich list” or missed out once again.
There is no harm in having these conversations with oneself. After all, every month on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh we pray for “a life of prosperity and honour”, and we know that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, editor of the Mishnah, used to give honour to rich people (Eruvin 86a). In the light of these facts, I suppose I for one have to conclude that I’m a nobody, a failure. The past year did not make me wealthier. My assets did not appreciably increase. I wasn’t in the rich list last year, and I’m still nowhere in striking distance.
But I am not too disappointed with myself, since it is possible to be rich in other ways. Pirkei Avot asks, “Who is rich?” and the answer is given in psychological, not financial terms. Who is rich? “He who is contented with his lot” (Avot 4:1). This is not an argument for being a stick-in-the-mud without ambition or drive, a person content to be in a rut. What we are being told is that if you are a stable, settled personality at ease with yourself and without major neuroses, you can regard yourself as fortunate – and rich.
There is a porter who helps people with their shopping in the Machaneh Yehudah markets in Jerusalem. He goes about his work singing Ana HaShem hoshi’a na from the Hallel. Ask him why he’s so happy and he replies, “Baruch HaShem, I’m rich!” You look at him. It’s rather obvious that he barely makes a living. But he still thinks he’s rich. You ask him why and he answers, “Ani ashir, I really am rich, because ashir is the abbreviation for einayim, shinayim, yadayim, raglayim – eyes, teeth, hands and legs. I have a healthy body, and if you have health you have everything. I’m a rich man!”
Isn’t it good to have some money too? Naturally, but it’s not worth it if you’ve gained it less than honestly, if money has become an obsession and if you use your money to bully and bribe your family (“Do as I say or I’ll cut you out of my will!”). If you have riches, use it wisely. Disraeli said, “Great wealth is a great blessing to him who knows what to do with it”. Why did Yehudah HaNasi honour rich people? Because if the rich are generous they are useful to the community.
The financial rich list is not for everybody, only for the top 200 or so. But Baruch HaShem, we can all be on the rich list of those who can say Baruch HaShem!