Rabbi Aaron Bisno likes to tell me that when he had a golden retriever (now I have a retriever mix), he tried to teach her that “it is better to give than retrieve.” While dogs follow, for the most part, their instincts, human beings can aspire to act in accordance with ethical and moral values and sacred teachings. For Jews, Torah is our guide.
Lech Lecha contains an important lesson about prosperity and how we might best put our good fortune to use. When commanding Avram to leave his homeland, God promised him that in his new location he would merit to have children and become a great nation, he would become wealthy, and he would become well-known and respected (Bereshit 12:1-2).The promise is fulfilled, as the text tells us, “Now Avram is “severely (kaved) wealthy.” (13:2)
The word kaved is an interesting choice and one that is not usually associated with wealth. In fact, kaved is most often translated as “heavy.” Are we to understand from this verse that having a lot of money can be a heavy burden?
As the story unfolds we learn that while Avram and Lot both become wealthy, Avram’s character remains unchanged with the accumulation of wealth; Lot wants more and more. In fact, Lot ultimately leaves the Promised Land in search of a place where he can acquire even more wealth.
In “The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need,” Juliet B. Schor explores why so many Americans feel materially dissatisfied, regardless of how much they have. I was startled by the title of Chapter Four: “When Spending Becomes You.” Even as I recognize my own needs to buy what I don’t need, I hope never to equate my possessions with my very being. The story of Lot and Avram ends with a clear message about greed: “Avram [is] on the heights, Lot down on the sunken plain.”
I’m pretty sure the Torah is not just describing their physical locations. PJC
Rabbi Sharyn Henry is a spiritual leader of Rodef Shalom Congregation. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.