Saturday, March 26, 2011

Amassing Wealth in Other Worlds

    Once, Reb Shmelke found himself with no money in his pocket to give a beggar. So he went to his wife's drawer, took out a ring, and gave it to the man. When his wife came home and discovered that the ring was gone, she began to cry. When Reb Shmelke explained what had happened, she demanded that he run after the pauper, as the ring was worth over fifty talents.
    Running desperately, the rabbi managed to catch up with the beggar. He grabbed the man and said: "I've just discovered that the ring that I gave you is worth more than fifty talents. Don't let anyone trick you into accepting any less!"
    The story holds us in a material dimension until the very end, when we realize that Reb Shmelke lived in another dimension of the world of money altogether. In this dimension, he could only interpret his wife's concern as a desire that the poor man not be tricked regarding the value of her tzedakah. This may seem like a surprise ending, but if you read it equipped with an understanding of the world of livelihood, everything makes sense from beginning to end.
    Another example is that of Reb Eliezer, who, based on his comprehension of livelihood, tracked down tzedakah opportunities like a greedy businessman.
    The charity collectors were in the habit of hiding from Reb Eliezer, because he would often give all he had to charity. Once he went to the market to buy a wedding dress for his daughter, and when the charity collectors saw him coming, the tried to run away. But he saw them first and followed them. When he found them he begged, " Tell me, what do you have today for tzedakah? What cause are you collecting for? They answered, "We're collecting funds for a wedding dress for some poor girl who is about to get married." Reb Eliezer thought to hinself, "This girl take priority over my daughter," and he donated all he had, keeping only a zuz. With this zuz he bought ahandful of wheat, which he placed in a room in his house.  
    When his wife came home, she asked her daughter, "What had your father bought for you?" And the daughter answered: "Whatever it is, it's over there in that room." The mother went to the room and couldn't open the door because there was wheat piled high up to the ceiling.
    When he arrived home, Reb Eliezer was approached by his wife, who said, "Come see what the Creator has done for you." When Reb Eliezer saw what had happened, he said, "This wheat must be distributed among the poor, and we must keep a portion equivalent to that of those people who don't have money to buy a wedding dress for their daughters."
    The main element in this story is not the miraculous reward, but the constantly coherent attitude of Reb Eliezer: coherent, that is, for someone who understands reality in a specific way. In the beginning, we see that the charity collectors hide from him as if they were the very source of of his business and livelihood. And that is exactly how Reb Eliezer sees them. - as opportunities for livelihood. His very wording when he finds them has us believing that he's really shopping around the Market for opportunities: "What do you have today for tzedakah?" Even the story's setting, the market, is suggestive of the scope of this Market and its possibilities. After all, how many of us walk around shopping for opportunities as Reb Eliezer does?
    Even the apparently dogmatic ending, where he keeps only the equivalent of the dress, is just another demonstration that he inhabits a parallel universe. Reb Eliezer goes to the market to buy a wedding dress for his daughter, and he leaves this Market with a dress: not with a material dress, but with his money completely distilled. It is now a responsible money that can finally buy a real dress. But we may ask: Didn't Reb Eliezer have the money already? And who said the money was clean? Reb Eliezer said so. Reb Eliezer realized that to buy a dress for his daughter when other could not implicated him in some way. Above all, he's not passive, and he's not a fool who throws his money away, as it may seem at first sight. He holds on to his zuz, which is the financial link between the non-responsible money and the money that has been taxed with responsibility. 
    These are unquestionable demonstrations of wealth derived from having - temporarily and apparently - less. They are outlooks on livelihood where the radius of the cycle of return is large - ecological even.
     Those who don't understand this are startled by certain attitudes that are inexplicable within the frame of reality that we build and accept. An example of this the case of Rabbi Zbaraser, who once, upon returning home, realized that his house was being burgled. He stood still for a few moments and then murmured to the thieves, "I don't want to be held accountable for this sin, so I give all of this to you as a present."
     At one point Rabbi Zbaraser saw that they were carrying away a jar containing chemical products, so he approached one of them and said, "You may take this, but be careful with the contents of this jar, or you'll hurt yourselves."

-from The Kabbalah of Money by Rabbi Nilton Bonder