Judaism’s most famous prayer comes from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vaetchanan. Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d,” the verse continues, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your meod.”
Rashi, the great Biblical commentator, interprets this last phrase — “with all your meod” — to mean “with all your resources,” i.e. your money. This, of course begs the question: if we have already been commanded to love G-d “with all your soul” — which the commentaries understand to mean that we should be prepared to give our very life for G-d– then why the rather mundane command about money? Surely, if we are prepared to give our life for G-d, then sharing our money is a small thing to ask?
Rashi explains that in fact there are individuals who value their money more than their lives. Such people need to be told to love G-d with all their money.
Jack Benny, the well-known American entertainer from long ago, used to joke self- deprecatingly about his frugality. Once, he told of walking down a New York street late at night when he suddenly felt cold, hard metal pointing into his back and a gruff voice barked, “Your money or your life!” When he didn’t immediately respond, the gun at his back pressed deeper into his flesh and the voice from behind became more menacing, “Your money or your life!” Benny replied, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”
There are actually quite a few real life situations today which prove that this is no joke. There is no shortage of people, from private contractors in Iraq to white farmers in Zimbabwe, who pursue business opportunities and careers which place their lives in danger.
So the Torah insists that we must love G-d with all our heart, soul, life and resources — whatever it is that we value and cherish most, we should be prepared to dedicate in love to G-d.
I have spoken of this concept at Pidyon Haben (“Redemption of the First Born”) ceremonies, where one finds a very strange dialogue between the father and the Kohen. By Torah law, every first born belongs to G-d, or to G-d’s designated representative, the Kohen. The Kohen therefore asks the father of the newborn child, “Which do you prefer: your first born son, or the five silver shekels you are obligated to give me for his redemption?”
Now what kind of absurd question is that? Is this “The Money or the Box”? Which normal father is going to give away his son when he can keep him for the small price of five silver coins? No one is waiting in breathless suspense for the father’s answer.
In truth, however, it is a very serious question. The priestly minister of G-d asks of the father of this child: In your newborn son’s future life, what will be of primary significance? Will it be the child or the shekel? Will you place high importance on finance or on family time? Will you raise this child with an emphasis on materialism or on more meaningful things? This is really a very good question after all — one which parents need to consider soberly before responding to.
How many workaholics do we know who are so busy making a living that they forget to live. Remember, no one was ever heard lamenting on their deathbed, “Oy, if only I’d spent more time at the office!”
So the Shma reminds us that whatever our core values may be, they should be directed to G-d and His service.
Even for those who aren’t overly thrifty, money is an issue. The reality is that it’s not cheap to be Jewish, certainly not to live Jewishly. Whether it’s the higher price of kosher food and Jewish schooling, or the additional expenses of preparing for Passover, building a Sukkah, or acquiring tefillin and mezuzahs, all these things require a commitment from us financially. When we make that commitment with love and don’t complain about the high cost of being Jewish, then we are observing the mitzvah of loving G-d with all our “meod” — our money and resources.
But don’t worry. G-d loves us too.
One day, a man went to an auction. While there, he bid on an exotic parrot.
He really wanted this bird, so he got caught up in the bidding. He kept on bidding, but kept getting outbid, so he bid higher and higher and higher.
Finally, after he bid way more than he intended, he won the bid. The price
As he was paying for the parrot, he said to the Auctioneer, “I sure hope this parrot can talk. I would hate to have paid this much for it, only to find out that he can’t talk!”
“Don’t worry,” said the Auctioneer, “He can talk. Who do you think kept bidding against you?”