Parshas Korach – Use Your Money Wisely

By: Rabbi Aryeh Citron

 

Korach, the villain of the Torah portion of Korach, was one of the wealthiest men to ever have lived. The Talmud says that Korach became wealthy when he discovered the vast treasure that had been hidden by Joseph many years earlier.[1]

Korach’s wealth was so immense that “three hundred white mules were needed just to carry the keys to Korach’s treasure-stores.”[2] The Talmud asserts that the keys were not made of heavy metal but rather from much lighter pieces of leather.

It is possible that Korach found this wealth in his capacity as Pharaoh’s finance minister which allowed him to have in “his hands the keys to his treasures.”[3]

Referring to the wealth of Korach, King Solomon, the wisest of men, said, “stored treasures that bring evil to their owners.”[4] [5] It was Korach’s pride and arrogance, largely fueled by his vast riches, that led him to rebel against Moses. This ultimately brought death and destruction upon him, his family and hundreds of other Jews.

 

Honoring the Wealthy

The Talmud says that Rebbi, the author of the Mishnah, and Rabbi Akiva would show honor to wealthy people, specifically those who did many charitable acts with their money. The Talmud explains that the reason they did this is that the entire world exists in the merit of acts of kindness. Thus, the entire world is sustained in the merit of wealthy individuals who support the poor, and for this they deserve honor. This can be derived from the verse, “May the world be enthroned before G-d, appoint kindness and truth that they may preserve it.”[6] The deeper meaning of this verse is “When ‘may the world be enthroned before G-d?’ (i.e., in what merit does G-d sustain the world?) When people preserve “kindness and truth.”(חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת מַן יִנְצְרֻהוּ)

Rashi explains that the word מַן refers to food. This means that G-d sustains the entire world in the merit of the people who provide food for the poor. Rebbi would accord honor to all wealthy people, assuming that they were charitable, because he believed that if they were not giving charity, G-d would not allow them to maintain their wealth.[7]

 

Charity should be Like Manna

The Ben Ish Chai explains that the verse uses the word מַן for food because it is an allusion to the Manna that fell in the desert. He explains that giving charity should parallel the Manna in three ways;

* The rich should give to the poor in an honorable and clean way (no strings attached) just as the Manna was given to the Jews.[8]

* The rich should only give money to charity that is free of theft or cheating just as the Manna was free of these.[9]

* Just as the Jews gathered the Manna without trouble, so too the poor should receive charity without difficulty.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger is of the opinion that Rebbi,[10] who was very wealthy, taught his students the importance of honoring wealthy people so that they would honor him for his wealth rather than for his Torah. This was because he didn’t want to receive any personal benefit from his Torah learning.

 

Using Wealth Wisely

One who is wealthy but doesn’t use his wealth to help others may deserve a harsh punishment indeed. The Talmud[11] says that “the rich men of Babylon will go down to Gehinnom (purgatory) [because they don’t give charity to the poor].”

In fact, the very Jewishness of one who doesn’t give charity may be in doubt. The Talmud relates that a sage by the name of Shabtai, son of Marinus, came to Babylon and asked the people to provide him with merchandise for trading. He wanted them to loan him the merchandise and he would share the profits with them. They refused to do this for him. He then asked them to give him financial assistance for food. They refused this as well. He said: “These (people) are descendants of the ‘mixed multitude,’ (eirev rav, who were insincere converts), for it is written, ‘And grant you compassion, and be compassionate with you.’[12] This means that G-d implanted the trait of compassion in the Jewish people.[13] This teaches us that whoever is merciful to his fellow man is certainly of the children of our father Abraham,[14] and whoever is not merciful to his fellow man is certainly not of the children of our father Abraham.”

 

Waste Not, Even on Weddings

Many Rabbinic leaders have spoken out against spending excessive amounts of money on “simchas” (joyous events) such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.[15] In fact, in some Chassidic groups there are very specific guidelines about how many people one may invite to a wedding, how much each “plate” may cost and so on.

The fifth Rebbe of Ger, known as the Lev Simcha, established such guidelines for the Gerer Chassidim which they still adhere to. I heard that a certain wealthy Chassid of the Lev Simcha by the name of Lieberman was planning to make a wedding soon after the Rebbe had established these rules. When he went to receive a blessing from his Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him if he would be adhering to the new rules. He replied that “since he had more, he could afford to buy more.” (i.e. the rules do not apply to him due to his wealth.) The Rebbe responded, “If so, you can ‘buy’ another Rebbe.” (Needless to say, he followed the rules.)

It is also told of the Lev Simcha, that when he realized that the cost of a spodik, the Polish shtreimel, was becoming prohibitive, he announced that if the average cost would increase beyond $400, he would remove his spodik.

 

Be Frugal and Do Not Indulge

The Peleh Yo’etz writes,

“The trait of frugality is a precious jewel. One should only eat what he needs. One should minimize his pleasure as much as possible. If one enjoys only pleasures that one needs, he adds energy to the side of holiness. But if one “crosses the line” and indulges in excessive pleasures, he is adding energy to the unholy side. This is only true during the week. But on Shabbat and Yom Tov, all the energy goes to the holy side.[16]

 

But Spend on Mitzvot and on Your Spouse

“One should be easygoing with one’s money just as Job was, concerning whom the Talmud says that he would give a coin to the grocer and not ask for the change.[17] One should easily spend one’s money on mitzvot. One should not get angry in his house about anything. Arguments and strife in the house are extremely negative… One should also not get angry regarding religious matters. If necessary, one may show anger outwardly (to teach one’s family members a lesson) but should remain calm inside.

“Regarding household expenses, one should give one’s wife what she requests, unless he can convince her against the expense with positive words. He should not fight regarding this. G-d, blessed be He, will provide him with this. He should believe that when he does something for the sake of Heaven, G-d will provide for this. Since he’s spending this money for the sake of Heaven – not to get angry – G-d will certainly provide him with the necessary funding, as long as he keeps this belief firm in his heart.

“One should separate the tithe (ten percent of one’s income to charity). Even if one thinks that he gave more than ten percent (but is not totally sure), he should separate it and give it to charity. The act of separating it, is a mitzvah in and of itself.

“One should remove the trait of stinginess from one’s heart as this trait calls judgment upon oneself. When one spends generously on mitzvot, one should intend to draw down bountiful blessings on himself and on all of Israel.”[18]

 

Gift-Giving

King Solomon said, “A man’s gift will make room for him, and it will lead him before the great.”[19] This means that when one gives gifts, he gains many friends, including people in high places. Certainly, one should not spend excessively in this regard, but rather should do this in a manner that he can afford and that is considered “pleasant” by people.

From time to time, one should give gifts to the poor and to Torah scholars, as well as to one’s friends and acquaintances, as is appropriate for one’s wealth. This will increase peace, love, and feelings of brotherhood. It is considered a great mitzvah. One should also do this towards simple people as well as to gentiles. This can also benefit the giver in the long run as King Solomon said, “Cast your bread onto the waters for after many days you will find it.”[20]

It is best not to give gifts to the same person on a regular basis, e.g., on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis as the day may come when he will be unable to keep this up and the other person will have come to rely on it.

 

Receiving Gifts

One should not readily accept a (significant) gift. Rather one should first refuse it and only accept it if he is convinced that the giver is giving it with his whole heart. [21]

 

One who follows these dictates will be a “seeker of G-d who will lack nothing.”[22]

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was born in California and learned in Yeshivahs around the world before receiving his Smicha in Melbourne Australia. He lives in Miami where he teaches Torah to Jews of all ages. He sends out a weekly email, “Parsha Halacha” and recently authored the book, “The Practical Parsha: Weekly Halacha for Daily Living.” To subscribe to his email you can contact him at rabbicitron@yeshivahcollege.org.


[1] Pesachim 119a

[2] Sanhedrin 110a, in the name of Rabbi Levi

[3] Bamidbar Rabba 18, 15

[4] Kohelet [Ecclesiastes] 5, 12)

[5] Sanhedrin, ibid

[6] Psalms 61, 8

[7] Rashi on the Ein Yakov

[8] See Vayikrah Rabbah, (I have not found the exact source of this Midrash) that the Jews received Manna even when they used the Manna to worship the golden calf.

[9] See Y.D. 248, 4

[10] See Nedarim 50b, that Rabbi Akiva became wealthy later in life, so this may apply to him as well.

[11] Beitzah 32a

[12] Deut. 13, 18

[13] Maharsha

[14] Regarding whom it says, “he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the L-rd to perform righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18, 19)

[15] See Be’er Moshe, 4, 147, 31

[16] Peleh Yoetz near the end of the book

[17] Megillah 28

[18] Peleh Yoetz, ibid

[19] Proverbs, 18, 16

[20] Ecclesiastes, 11, 1

[21] Peleh Yoetz, entry Matan

[22] Psalms, 34, 11

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