Friday, May 19, 2017

Behar-Bechukotai: Have I Got a Financial Opportunity for YOU!!

Sometimes you plan to write a linked series of posts, and sometimes it just happens. I didn't intend to create a theme here, but look what happened! I've also gradually realized that the unifying topic is different from what I first thought.
Last week, I spoke about a podcast called "Death, Sex, and Money," and how this week's blog post might round out my series on these three topics. Looking back now, the theme that I am ACTUALLY highlighting, that I now want to name explicitly, is "uncomfortable subjects." That may seem obvious to some of you, but I'm stating it clearly nonetheless. I have already received some fascinating responses to my two previous posts, from more than a few people looking to talk about things that rarely get discussed... and which they NEED to address. It makes me feel like I'm on to something... So again, let's own this topic that we're currently tackling, and let's delve once more into a tough, tough subject - possibly the hardest of them all: Money.

Money scares me (but don't tell my employers at Ohev...). One thing they don't prepare you for in rabbinical school is dealing with estrangements and bitterness
among congregants and families. But this community, like all communities everywhere always, has its share of heartbreaking rifts between individuals. And when you dig into the source of these disputes, what's at the root of it all? Money. Nearly every time. It may take the shape of who cares for an elderly parent or disputed possessions/homes/objects or whose motives are genuine; but somewhere along the way, money poisoned the well. It seeps in everywhere and whispers deceptively in our ears. The more you think about it, the more we should ALL be afraid of money... even though we all also need it and are dependent upon it. One way to combat that fear, or perhaps to counteract its underhanded effects, is actually quite simple: Talk about money.

That may seem counterproductive, but I assure you it isn't. So many things are taboo: What someone earns, what they pay for different services, how much to tip, and what they are worth. And in the darkness of silence lies shame, judgment, and gossip. Our Torah portion tries to battle
the plague of wealth as well (does that sentence make me sound like a Socialist?). First of all, the Torah reminds us that NO ONE truly owns anything. Our possessions, our successes, and our fortunes all exist at the benevolence of God. You don't get to lord your wealth over someone else. Why? Because it ain't yours to begin with. God says: "the land is Mine! You are but strangers resident with Me!!" (Lev. 25:23) Our parashah then goes on to discuss property laws, laws of helping the recently impoverished, treatment of indentured slaves, and other financial matters. Hidden just below the surface of our text, is the concern that money will contaminate relationships, and that power will lead one to take advantage, become cold-hearted, and act with cruelty.

After a long discussion of monetary laws, the Torah suddenly inserts a commandment against setting up idols, seemingly out of context. Except it isn't really unrelated, is it? Not all idols are made of stone, wood, or clay...
Money, stocks, mortgages, and assets can also become graven images, and when we "worship" them, we may also lose sight of the human suffering around us, and become callous to the misery of others. But you don't have to be a billionaire to be at risk. Think about money in your life, and in your family. Are you cringing yet? This is surely an uncomfortable topic, and one that causes a lot of pain and distancing. And I assure you that silence is amplifying and multiplying that pain. We should definitely approach these conversations with sensitivity, patience, and LOTS of compassion. Open ears and open hearts. But we SHOULD talk. Is it hard? Of course. Most worth-while conversations are. And it's actually like exercising any other muscle in your body. Talking about uncomfortable stuff is EXCRUCIATING... the first time. Little by little, it gets easier. And you never know the healing that may await on the other side. Please, take that first step.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Creative Tail on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of MagentaGreen on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Wonderlane on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of  on Wikimedia Commons

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