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Chapter Forty-Nine

Advertising is an art that has always caught my interest. I can’t imagine how the people who run it always manage to think up so many ways to part us from our money. I came across a real beauty one day. It was for an expensive wristwatch. Listen to this: “You never actually own a _________. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Now that’s a powerful message! It speaks of generations, of watching over things for your children’s future, of cozy families and loving dads — in short, everything sweet. Right away, you feel this watch is unique. It will be passed down as an heirloom, and you will be that loving parent who took the responsibility on yourself to do so. Is it selfish to buy such an expensive piece of jewelry? No way! After all, you are investing in your kids’ future! And what a trinket this is. It will be good as new hundreds of years from now.

This is what great adverts are about. In a few short words the sellers give you a feeling of worth and continuity — and it just so happens they have sold you a fancy piece of jewelry as well.

Sadly for the makers of this timepiece, I for one will not be lining up to plunk down the huge sum it costs. I happen to have a perfectly decent watch that does its job admirably. As for the next generation, well, there are a few other things I would like to guard for them. The message, however, is pertinent, and given the correct context, it should whisper an important lesson to us all.

What you do in this world sets the agenda for tomorrow. Children learn not from what is said, but from what they see. Everyone would like to think he is handing over a better world to his young, but what is meant by “better” is the primary question.

Another crucial point is the understanding that what you do educates your own future thinking. When we act against our spiritual needs, we lay the groundwork for additional steps leading to further moral bankruptcy.

We live in a society built on the accumulation of material wealth. This is life’s “bottom line” to the majority of people today. To such people, the human condition is measured on how much one consumes and the number of assets one owns. This superficiality has seeped into every quarter, causing untold damage in terms of jealousy and anger.

To the Torah Yid, such a measure of success should be abhorrent, but truth be told, we are not immune to this disease. In this throwaway society, everyone seems to be losing the ability to feel connected to unchanging, eternal values.

All this is nothing new. Infatuation with wealth has been around since the creation of the world. Each generation had its diversity of trials, but every epoch faces this consistent problem. What we perceive as our reality was transmitted to us, to a great extent, by our parents, to be used as a launch pad for our own future. We, in turn, do the same for our young, and to think otherwise is both foolish and dangerous. It’s funny how kids can tell what we really consider important. Those little remarks, the things done that may not be all that kosher, all are filed away in young memory banks.

Why do we find ourselves so vulnerable when it comes to material gain? Perhaps it’s because somewhere along the line we have allowed the “adverts” to gain a foothold in our souls. This is a huge problem, one that strains at our true bitachon and the acceptance of halacha with all its ramifications.

At every turn, we hear reminders that reveal how far this moral rot has entrenched itself. Extravagant weddings and expensive bar mitzvas are just the tip of the iceberg. Houses become showrooms of conspicuous consumption, and shidduchim are made with extortionate price tags. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not comfortable with young kallas sporting two- carat diamonds, nor, for that matter, with chasanim not yet out of their teens wearing the same watches described as advertised above. Yes, unfortunately the Torah community is not immune, and in certain ways, it seems to be quite open to this contagion.

Kapitel 49 speaks to all of mankind. It was written by Korach’s sons, who certainly knew a thing or two about money’s power of corruption.

Hear this all peoples! Listen, all inhabitants of the decaying world! As Yidden, we are meant to be a light unto the nations. We therefore call on all the world’s peoples to realize that a world built only for consumption will inevitably decay.

Who today can doubt this? The waste affluent people throw away could easily feed many of those who are starving. This alone is bad enough, but the situation is much worse, for in this fress frenzy we are depleting the resources of the planet we live on. Hashem made the world with a perfection that holds everything in Divine balance. We tamper, we exhaust and we don’t replace; yes, we cause the fragile earth’s decay.

Also sons of Adam and sons of man, wealthy and destitute alike. The Amudei Sheish explains that the “sons of Adam” refer to Kayin and Hevel, who quarreled over worldly possessions at the dawn of history. Ever since, such folly has been with us, and what happened to them just proves how dangerous it is. The “sons of men” refer to the upper classes, the real men of importance, who are just as enamored with the world’s gold as anyone else. Rich and poor alike, we are all the same. The poor man believes that money will solve all his problems, and the rich fellow is no better. He thinks that no matter how much he has, it’s not enough; he needs more just to guarantee what he already has.

My mouth will speak wisdom, and my innermost contemplation, deep understanding. If one begins to focus on Hashem’s truth, then he will come to experience what actual wisdom and understanding is. While the airwaves are so polluted with the whirlwind of vacuous imagery, the psalmist indicates where we can find calming help.

I will incline my ear to a parable. I will solve my conundrum on the harp. The world’s greatest parable is Hashem’s Torah. We were given the deepest of secrets coached in the stories of the Torah. In this way, we are able to at least begin to comprehend and touch the edges of His Majesty. It is the noise of the mundane that tends to turn our thoughts away from the energy-giving exercise of delving into Hashem’s word.

Why should I be afraid in days of evil? The sin I trod on surrounds me! The psalmist is alluding to the riddle of life’s meaning. Days of evil are those later times in life when weakness no longer allows a person such inquiry. He becomes frightened, and the sins that he committed as easily as walking will surround his every sense.

There are those who have faith in their money and who pride themselves on their great wealth…. Each of us must ask himself: Do I place my trust in Hashem or in the bank? This truth is something we must all grapple with. If not, we become lost in the vortex of the material whirlpool.

So what is it you guard for your next generation? Is it the shining glimmer of silver and gold, or the warmth and sweetness that is trust in Hashem? Once this is decided, then all is clear. The gifts Hashem bestows on you will be seen as just that — a gift and not a goal.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Torah.org.


 






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