In January of this year, TIME magazine published an article about the terrible things that happen to lottery winners. The article quotes a study that found that 70% of people who come into large sums of money lose it only a few years later. The author goes on to cite several examples of worst-case scenarios involving big ticket winners, including bankruptcy and even murder.
Monetary wealth comes at a price. Literally. Of course your chances of surviving the pitfalls of being rich are probably greater if the wealth is accumulated over time rather than all at once. However, in either case money (in all amounts) carries the burden of responsibility to use it wisely.
Perkei Avot teaches, “More money, more problems,” of course borrowing from Notorious B.I.G., who teaches “Mo Money Mo Problems.” The rabbis were trying to remind us that with the good comes the bad. As some Powerball winners discover, more money seems like a blessing until it creates more problems than you started with. This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, also has an interesting take on that very idea.
Parshat Lech Lecha brings us finally into the narrative of Abraham and Sarah and the true beginning of our history as the Jewish people. The text begins with Avram and Sarai leaving their land, the land that they knew and felt comfortable in, to follow God’s command and go to Egypt. The text continues with their ongoing problems in Egypt and ends with the changing of their names from Avram/Abram to Avraham/Abraham and Sarai to Sarah.
Early in the parshah we learn that Abraham went from Egypt back to the Negev with all that he had, together with his nephew Lot. The Torah teaches in chapter 13, verse 2, “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and gold.” That is to say, Abraham had a lot of possessions, and that meant that theoretically he also had a lot of power.
But the Hebrew word for “rich” the Torah uses here is not one that suggests the power of riches. Instead, the word kaved is used, which translates to mean heavy or burdened. Furthermore, wealth is relative and subjective. Abraham was rich with material items, but as we learn later, felt “poor” before he and Sarah were finally able to build a family together. The Torah leads us to believe that perhaps for a righteous person like Abraham, great wealth is accompanied by the great burden to use it responsibly. May this be our lesson as well.