On my way to Israel, I had time to watch two movies on the airplane. The first one was “Lansky” and the second one was “House of Gucci”. The first one showed how poverty can lead a human being down a dangerous lifestyle path, and the second one showed how the opulent life and the permanent chasing after money and power destroyed an entire successful family.
In our Parasha, we are reading about the life of Abraham, the tests God gave him as a poor person and also as a rich person and the way Abraham deals with both situations. The “poverty trial” started when Abraham came to Israel for the first time, and due to the famine and the poverty in Israel he had to immigrate to Egypt. That trial was to test if a person like Abraham, in a situation of economic pressure, will continue to adhere to God and His commandments, or if he will not accept the divine judgment upon himself, rebel and disbelieve in God’s leadership, and possibly even commit crimes and steal to overcome his poverty in a twisted way.
This is the test. The lack, which poverty creates, leads to a search for filling, and at this point the man is faced with the free will to choose whether to continue to stick to honesty and holiness despite the difficulty, or whether to spoil and fill his lack in dishonest ways.
After leaving Egypt, going back to Israel for the second time, now as a rich man,
Abraham faced another test, “the wealth trail.” The Torah says, “And Abraham is very heavy with gold and with money.”
In some cases, because the material weighs on the person spiritually, covers him with shell of “good fat,” and pulls him down to the realization of desires and passions. The excess of money and the excess of free time that wealth offers, tempts man to materialism, to forbidden lusts, and to walking in corrupt ways (gambling, prostitution, gluttony, lust for control, pursuit of honor…)
The risk in having lots of material and wealth is that man may lose faith, and mistakenly believe that by his own power he made his wealth and assets and may in consequence also reject the burden of the commandments, thinking that the purpose of life is just for having “pleasures and good times.” The Torah says, “You shall eat, and you shall be satisfied; and you shall build good houses… and silver and gold shall multiply to you… and your heart shall be lifted up; and you shall forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy, chapter 8).
To understand the magnitude of Abraham’s resistance to the test of wealth, the Torah presents, for a comparison, the effect of wealth on Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot also went together with Abraham to Egypt, got rich there too, and went back to Israel together with Abraham. But then differences between them forced them to separate. The different use of wealth and assets is evident between Abraham’s way of holiness, and Lot’s way of lust, that finally brought them to a collision and a fight. The desire to give that comes from the part of the soul, cannot tolerate to live together with the desire of selfishness and just receiving which comes from the body. In the end of the story Lot chooses to live in the city Sodom even though the people of Sodom were evil. The essence of the people of Sodom was the desire to receive only for themselves and having enactments prohibiting help to the weak and needy.
On the other hand, Abraham decided to stay around Hebron and display acts of kindness for the people in his area. When a person has clarity as to what life is about, chooses to see his life as a trial, distances himself from evil and from spoiled people, he is preparing himself to receive true pleasure, and a true reward forever and ever – “forever”.
None of us are on the level of Abraham, and the trials in our lives are not equal to those he experienced. However, our father Abraham’s resistance to trials are guidelines for our life and a role model to follow.
Rabbi Refael Cohen