The concept of money is as old as trading can be. Once the currency concept was born everything started to revolve around this concept of using money in exchange for goods. Money is just something that is part of our lives, whether we want it or not; whether we want to be rich or just have enough money to live a pleasant life; or if we want to to do something very important that requires a certain amount of money. Either way, everybody has something to do with currencies and the power they have to be exchanged for goods.
In Judaism, it is no different. The concept of money for Jews means that they share and give in amazing ways. Why is it that Jews are considered better business people than others? Is the Jewish phenomenon in the world something similar to a fairy-tale or are they actually better with money than the rest of the people? Do they have something special that makes them just financially very successful?
In order to more or less understand these questions, Yosef Meystel took the time to read some of the teachings that Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has given his followers about the concept of money. Let’s read and learn some of the ways Jews relate to the concept of money.
The love for God over the love for money
The love that people has for God should be greater than the love for material things. This means that one should love “the Lord your God… with all your might” (Deut. 6:5) even if that means letting go of all the material things and things that represent wealth. Also, sometimes a person will have to let go of things for the sake of God and forget about possessions in order to follow the path of God. If that person is at risk because of his or her religion, the person should move to a place where he or she can practice religious rituals, whatever the expense is.
God only asks for 20 % of the people´s means in order to use it for religious purposes. So, there is no need to go over that number for the sake of God and the there is no need to spend more in order to perform a positive commandment. For example, there is no need to spend more on religious gifts such as a matzah for Passover.
The same concept as before applies to charity, according to Rabbi Aryeh. Only 1/5 of the person´s income should go to charity and that is a considered very generous contribution, and a person may leave 1/3 of his or her estate to charity in the will and nothing more. People that go over that amount are considered wrong doers and they are considered fools who are affecting the community as a whole.
In a general view, a minimum of one-tenth of one’s income belongs to God. Jacob said it himself that “Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You” (Genesis 28:22), and the Talmud has a verse that says “Honor God with your wealth, and with the first fruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).
Here, the amount plays an important role. “We have accepted upon ourselves to donate a third of a shekel annually for the service of the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:33). This is applied to poor people and only them. If a person with means gives less than 10% of his or her income, the person is considered a miser.
The rabbi also mentions that the money can be used for charity or any other religious purpose like religious articles or books that will have to be shared with the poor.
Don’t Be Wasteful
In Judaism it is totally prohibited to destroy any useful object without a valid reason or destroy things out of anger and frustration as this is considered as idolatry and some objects carry the blessings with them. It is said in the following commandments, “You must not destroy [the city’s] trees” (Deut. 20:19), and “Do not destroy [the grapevine] for the blessing [over its wine] is in it.” (Isaiah 65:8). Also, damaging another person´s property is totally forbidden in the Judaism laws. If a person causes such damage to another person´s property, the first person should pay for the damage or make a restitution as it is said in (Leviticus 24:18) “If one kills an [other’s] animal, he must pay for it, [the value of] a life for a life”
Some of these teachings can be very useful for today´s world where people harm others with the excuse of money or power. These teachings can help the modern world relate better to the concept of money.
Be sure to also check this post on some concepts in Judaism about marriage.