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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.


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