Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Striving to be Wealthy, Powerful, and Glorious

I don't know about you, but when I think about someone who epitomizes the result of a life long pursuit of wealth, power, and glory, I think about no one other than Daffy Duck.  The seminal documentary on this subject being a cartoon where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were on their way to a vacation in Bermuda, but a wrong turn at Albekoikey brought them into the cave of wonders.  Daffy Duck immediately proclaimed himself owner of all he could see ("mine!  mine!  mine!  It's all mine!!") and beyond.  By the end of the epic, Daffy Duck had been reduced to the size of a bug, still proclaiming "mine! mine! mine!", and Bugs Bunny was relaxing in Bermuda.  The obvious message that pursuit of wealth, power, and glory is worse than vain -- it is tragically destructive -- was not lost on me.  (What?  You don't analyze cartoons like that?  Really?  Hmm...)

Yet Chazal seem to say something quite different.  (Shocking, right?)   Chazal not only laud the pursuit of wealth, power, and glory; they actually lay out a course to achieve them.  In the first mishna of the fourth perek of Pirkei Avos, ben Zoma explains how to be wealthy, powerful, and glorious.  Don't for a moment think that ben Zoma is talking to low people who cannot control their urges and so he is giving them a b'di'avad path to vent their low cravings.  First of all, the phrasing of the mishna is l'chatchila.  Not "if you (nebbich) want to be wealthy, then here's a way to control that destructive urge."  Oh no.  ben Zoma proclaims, "Who is wealthy?  Who is powerful? Who is glorious?"; this is the summary of a lecture on the importance of those attributes.  Moreover, the first advice from ben Zoma is how to achieve wisdom.  Surely no one considers the pursuit of wisdom as anything but the highest level of human achievement.

Upon further consideration, I see that the laughable and even tragic figure portrayed by Daffy Duck is not mistaken.  Ben Zoma does not tell us how to have wisdom, wealth, power, and glory; rather he tells us how to be wise, wealthy, powerful, and glorious.  Having those things rather than being those things is the difference between Bilaam haRasha and Moshe Rabeinu.  HaShem built us with an overwhelming and insatiable desire for wisdom, wealth, power, and glory.  As Shlomo haMelech tells us in Koheles 5:9: "ohev kesef lo yisbah kesef" -- one who love money is (never) satisfied with money.  Who epitomized that sentiment?  Chazal tell us that is Moshe Rabeinu.

Maybe I can't be Moshe Rabeinu, but I can certainly strive not to be Daffy Duck.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…