Q. Why do we pray for “a life of riches and honour” in the blessing for the New Moon? Does it really matter so much whether someone has riches?
A. Many of us who are not so well endowed ask this question every month when we bensch Rosh Chodesh. We wonder, does our lack of affluence mean God has rejected our plea for chayyim shel osher? Or is there something wrong with us ourselves that we do not seem to succeed in making money? Are we failures or nobodies?
It probably all depends on what the prayer means by riches. Maybe it is thinking of the passage in Pirkei Avot (4:1) which says, “Who is rich? He who is contented with his lot”. In other words, you can be rich in other ways than money. You are rich if you have a stable, settled personality, are at ease with yourself, have no major neuroses, and every morning can say, Baruch HaShem!
An example of this philosophy comes from the Rechov HaSabbalim, the Street of the Porters near the markets in Jerusalem, where there used to be a porter who would go about carrying his load and singing, “Ana HaShem, I’m happy! Baruch HaShem, I’m rich!” When asked what he meant, the porter said, “What is the word for rich? Ashir. What do the letters of ashir stand for? Einayim, eyes; shinayim, teeth; yadayim, hands; raglayim, legs. I’m happy and rich because I have my eyes, my teeth, my hands and my legs.” He’s right – if you have your health, you’re rich!
But don’t you need some money too? True, you do. But, as the Bible recognised all those centuries ago, it’s not worth it if you’ve gained your money less than honestly (Jer. 17:11, Hab. 2:6), or if money has become your obsession (Eccl. 5:9). Nor is the money worth it if you use it to bully and bribe your family (“Do as I say or I’ll cut you out of my will!”).
If you have money gained wisely and properly, use it wisely and properly. Disraeli said, “Great wealth is a great blessing to him who knows what to do with it.” The Talmud said that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, compiler of the Mishnah, hayah mechabbed ashirim – “used to honour rich people” – because he knew the rich were useful to society, and could give charity and support the community.