Shabbos: If I Were A Rich Man
Amidst the disputes regarding how to kindle the candles, which rags truly have no value, and whether to wear one's tzitzis out or concealed, there is this:
The Rabbis taught in a Baraisa:
Which person is truly wealthy? Anyone who takes pleasure in his wealth. These are the words of R'Meir. (25b).Yet consider the case of the wealthy candlemaker quoted in today's New York Times:
"Money makes a lifestyle," he said. "It creates a division between the old money and the new. It is a little bit of class jealousy. We go to a cocktail party and a guy is telling my wife about his airplane. So finally the question comes up: 'How do you get over to the island?' and she says, "we come by plane.' And he says, 'What kind of plane?' and she says 'A G-IV. And so the wind comes out of the guy's sails."The candlemaker's wife is certainly taking pleasure in her wealth, but this can't be the kind of pleasure that R'Meir is imagining. This is the pleasure that comes from making others feel diminished.
Perhaps sensing that R'Meir's definition is inadequate, the Gemara continues:
R'Tarfon says: A wealthy man is anyone who has a hundred vineyards and a hundred fields and a hundred servants who work in those fields.And the Times reports,
The demand for labor is so great that every weekday roughly 400 workers fly in from the mainland for construction, gardening, plumbing and other services. The commute may be a nuisance, but the money makes it worthwhile.Maybe so. But the commute and the long hours create a mental poverty, leaving no time for family or study. And the "wealthy" who employ them are isolated among their own possessions. This is not the message the Gemara wants to leave us with; rather, it continues,
R'Akiva says: He is anyone who has a wife beautiful in deeds.This is a statement that I can support wholeheartedly. However, this is not a kind of wealth that one can earn as easily as money. The newly rich described in the Times have perhaps been slow to discover this:
Some say that too much is being made of all these distinctions. "The only people who are truly class conscious," said Roger Horchow, who realized his fortune when he sold his catalog business to Neiman Marcus in 1988 for $117 million, "are the second tootsie wives of men with big bankrolls."The Times and the Talmud are light years apart on the question of wealth. The Times sees wealth in the grossest terms, focussing on those who have been financially rewarded way beyond the value of what they have contributed to the global community. Their point is a political one. And whether valid or not, it adopts a much narrower definition of wealth than our tradition would support.
This Gemara concludes with the words of R'Yose,
A wealthy person is anyone who has a latrine near his table.To which Rashba adds a necessary qualification:
In terms of the time needed to reach it, not in terms of actual physical proximity.There lives a wealthy man!