Friday, March 11, 2011

Should you make a fuss?

Luckily, we don't have one in our Shul, the fellow who drops a coin into the Tzedokah box and then shakes the thing to let everyone know he's done it. Some folks revel in whatever limelight they can get from doing good. Three months afterwards, they regale you with the story of their valiant effort to help a stranded woman change her tyre. They thrive on publicity.

On the other extreme, you get those who run a mile from public accolades. You'll chat to them for twenty minutes at a function without realising that they've sponsored the event or are the honorees of the dinner. They disburse goodness and generosity without pausing to think that anyone else has to know. They revel in anonymity.

Who is right? If you do a Mitzvah, should the community know about it, or should it remain your personal secret with G-d?

"Mitzvah lefarsem osay mitzvah", says the Talmud, "It is a mitzvah to advertise one who performs a mitzvah." It makes sense. When you draw attention to a person's good deed, it sets an example for others to follow. Note: The Talmud says it's a mitzvah to beat the drum for do-gooders, but it offers no license for self-promotion.

We are about to start reading the third book of the Torah, which opens with the laws of sacrifices. It starts with the statement that "Adam", a person who brings an offering to G-d should follow certain rules. Torah has a range of titles for humans at its disposal: "ish", "gever" or "enosh". Yet, it davka refers to the person bringing an offering as "Adam", a throwback to the first human. The verse links bringing your sacrifice to behaving as Adam did. One reason is to remind you that Adam didn't steal the animal he used as his offering, so neither should you.

The problem is, that the Torah already covers that by saying "bring an offering from you", meaning from your flock or herd. Surely, the sages hadn't missed that obvious reference, so their "don't steal" lesson must carry deeper meaning.

One insight is that Adam couldn't steal the limelight when he brought his sacrifice to G-d, because there was nobody else to impress. The eternal lesson is that when you move to get closer to G-d (korban, the Hebrew for sacrifice, comes from the Hebrew "karov", meaning close), do it in a way that nobody notices. If they notice, it's up to them to laud you and use you as an example for others to follow- which is not a bad thing either.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Improve your cash flow

"Money makes the world go 'round."

Ouch! Plenty people take offence to that cliche. It implies that rich people call the shots or that values like love and wisdom are not respected in society. The "Golden rule" that "he who has the gold makes the rules" drives capitalism, but unnerves people's sensitivities.

What would you say if I told you that Judaism believes that money does make the world go 'round? Surprised? I thought so. (No comments about revenue of Jewish organisations, please). It's not that Judaism sees money as the turbine of life, but it definitely acknowledges that it plays a pivotal role in our existence.

Money can't buy you happiness or meaning, but it can buy you partnership in G-d's business. G-d is supremely creative. He could have designed the realities of the world in any one of an infinite number of ways. He could have made everyone wealthy, or decided that money should grow on trees, or that people should survive without ever needing cash. He didn't. He chose to make haves and have-nots. And He had a very good reason for doing so.

Life is the confluence of give and take. Earth gives forth plants that offer nutrition to animals, who provide food for humans, who plow energy back into the earth to restart the cycle. Beyond the physical, G-d supplies energy and means to us, and we return dedication and achievement to Him. All life is the cyclic heartbeat of providing and receiving. Sometimes, you are the recipient, other times the supplier.

When G-d gives you money, He invites you onto the supply side of existence. He expects you to start a new flow from provider to recipient. He wants you to channel some of your success towards others less fortunate. As you become a provider, you stimulate more flow from the Ultimate Provider to you. He sees you as a reliable partner in His grand plan- the flow of energy through life.

Money makes the world go 'round, but only when it moves outwards. If the buck stops at you, if you hang on to every cent, the cycle stops and the blessings can no longer flow. If you keep the cash flowing, so does G-d.