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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Cash Prize

It always fascinates me that Nobel Prize winners are awarded cash prizes along with the title “Nobel Prize Winner.” One would think that such intellectual people, those who have their “heads in the clouds” or are “altruistic people,” are more concerned with the good of humanity than with monetary prizes, so why demean their accomplishments with something so mundane as money?  To some extent it undermines the message of their success. We try to say how much they contributed to society by putting their needs to the side and doing good for the public, and then we go and reward them for it. How? By giving them something that they themselves shunned?! 

 

This would not be a question if their pursuit were money to begin with. But generally speaking, the more “spiritual” the object that we run after, the less meaningful a monetary reward will mean to us. Yet, it seems that we are always rewarded with gifts and fame. Why is that so? 
 
This question becomes even more perplexing when we look at this week’s Torah portion, where G-d tells us that He will reward us for doing Mitzvot not with some spiritual benefit but with physical pleasure! So it is not just us, corporeal beings, that live this life of contradiction, but it is seemingly G-d who feeds this same addiction to worldly pleasures. 
  
Therefore, we must presume that there is a deeper meaning here. 
 
Money and worldly pleasures are not bad when used for the right purpose. Actually, they can and should be elevated to become holy. More to the point, if we don’t recognize the advantage of bringing holiness and Mitzvot into the realm of money and the mundane, then we are missing the point of Tikun Olam, changing and repairing this world.  
 
In order to truly make a difference in this world, we have to be able to relate to the lowest elements of this world, even to the things that attempt to “pull us down” (not literally pull us down). 
 
That is why G-d rewards us with physical things for doing Mitzvot, and that is why, even when we do a Mitzvah for altruistic reasons, we still appreciate when we are rewarded with a “cash prize”—not because we want the cash, but because with the cash we can go on to do more Mitzvot, and keep on making this world a better place. 
 
The same is true with the Nobel Prize winner. The cash prize is not the point—it is the honor of the prize. The cash that accompanies the title is a tangible expression of the unique contribution this individual has given to society. 
 
We all contribute to society in our own ways, and we all do our little – or big – Mitzvot. May Hashem reward us in very tangible ways and may we succeed in Tikun Olam, repairing this world and making this world a “home for G-d.” 

 

Jewish Economics 1.01

Is charging interest moral? Is it economically sound? 

The Torah prohibits you as a Jew from charging a fellow Jew interest on a loan. However, if you do, the money is yours to keep. The point is that if you decide to return the interest, not only are you not obligated to do so, you cannot. You can “gift” it, but not “return” it. 
 
The obvious question is, why? Isn’t loaning money with interest good for business? (We are not talking about loan sharks.) With an interest-bearing loan, both parties agree to the terms – happily. So why does the Torah prohibit such an interaction?
 
Charging interest makes business sense. Since there is nothing wrong with doing so purely from a business perspective, we can extrapolate that the money actually belongs to the lender. 
 
However, from a spiritual perspective, everything that belongs to us, all that we accumulate, has come into our possession for a reason. Nothing happens by mistake and we have to be a good steward with our possessions. 
So although we are interested in making money with our money, there is a law that tells us not to charge interest. This law comes directly from G-d – which isn’t to say that the money does not belong to us, because it does - but for another reason: G-d wants us to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us. Are we willing to help those who are less fortunate than us? As a favor, and not as a business transaction?  If we turn a loan into a business transaction, that is our choice, and the profit is ours. But the opportunity to help our fellow Jew was missed.   

How to Have a Meaningful Day

Some days we jump out of bed with alacrity and on others we need a crane to pull us out of bed. This may be due to the fact that some days we are going to work, while others we are vacationing in the most exotic place on Earth. Perhaps our work is so fulfilling and we love it so much we jump out of bed every day, and while we are at work we have so much stamina that we don’t get tired, and may even forget to take a lunch break. The question is, how do we motivate ourselves on a regular day to give it all that we can to make it fulfilling?

Interestingly enough, this week’s Torah portion starts off with a double usage within the same sentence of the word “say” (something to the Priests). This double use of “say” regards the Priests who served in the Temple, telling them that they should know the laws of how to serve. Yet, Rashi (the famous commentator) interprets the double expression to mean that the elders should teach the youngsters not only how to serve, but to do so with alacrity. The question is then, why does Rashi conclude that it means the elders should teach the youngsters? Maybe it means that the elders themselves should be excited about their own work?

 
We know people whose nature is to always have a jump in their step, always excited to see what the day will bring, always looking for adventure. In general, this is how the Kohen, the Priest behaves (at least in the Temple). In order to guarantee that this kind of commitment and emotion is transferred to the next generation, it is incumbent on the older generation to teach the next. 
 
Children don’t learn on their own, they are taught. We are duty-bound to teach the next generation. When we teach others to put excitement into every step, to be committed to the job that they do, even if it seems to be ordinary, we, too, will gain from that and have a meaningful day.
 
 
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