A Wise Use of Money: Fortifying One’s Values


KI TEITZEI, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Rabbi Howard A. Addison

How shall we budget our money? Since last year's recession began, this question has risen to ever higher levels of existential concern. For some, this has meant curtailing vacation plans. For others, the choices are starker: Do we pay the rent, purchase needed medication or put food on the table?

Recent articles have reported how some young adults have had long anticipated jobs or internships canceled. Others have been informed by parents or school financial-aid officers that they must now find educational and/or work opportunities closer to home. Throughout the country, many who had donated resources to food pantries now find themselves in need of those services.

As we debate the cost of plans to stimulate our economy, provide affordable health care and save our environment, I thought I'd check some statistics on how we Americans citizens spend our money. The results are quite interesting. We annually spend: $5.4 billion on ice-cream, $8 billion for cosmetics, $82 billion on cigarettes and $449 billion on entertainment.

While I don't favor smoking, I have nothing against ice-cream, makeup or fun. Yet these numbers strike a disturbing note when compared to statistics released last year by the United Nations. Annually, $6 billion would provide a basic education for all; $9 billion could ensure clean drinking water and sanitation globally; and $13 billion could provide rudimentary health care worldwide.

This week's portion highlights the correspondence between character and how we prioritize expenditures. It prohibits Israelites from marrying those descended from Moab and Amon. Previously, this ban seemed based on the incestuous lineage of these peoples recorded in Genesis. However, here the Torah states, " … because they didn't meet you with bread and water along the way but hired Balaam, the son of Beor, against you."

An anthology, Wellsprings of Torah, implies that the Moabites' cardinal sin was choosing expenditures of aggression over generosity, of hiring a seer to curse the Israelites when showing simple hospitality might have averted hostilities. Generations later, this pattern is reversed by Ruth the Moabite, whose loyalty made her worthy not only of marrying into our people, but becoming the great-grandmother of King David, and ultimately, the Messiah.

As we are called to evaluate our lives prior to the High Holidays, the story of a fashion model Laura Krauss Calenberg might offer us some insight. Employed at 19 by Christian Dior, Calenberg writes: "Being on the covers of top European fashion magazines was no longer a dream … Now I could wine and dine in Paris and toast fame and fortune. Isn't that what life is all about?"

While incapacitated for two weeks, Calenberg began to feel unsettled. Her meteoric rise had transformed her into a shallow workaholic. Recalling lyrics from a religious concert she attended as a teen, she prayerfully turned toward God. Calenberg now expends much of her resources on charity and spiritual activities, helping others to see what "true beauty" is.

As the shofar is sounded each morning heralding Rosh Hashanah, we are called to arise, examine our actions, reorder our priorities and transform our lives. Our sincerity will be reflected significantly by the effort, time and, yes, resources expended daily in realizing those values we'll soon profess to hold dear.

Rabbi Howard A. Addison is religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: rabbia@juno.com.


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