April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Gittin Daf 30: Winning the Powerball

Suddenly, Adam and Eve heard Hashem moving about in the garden of Eden and they ran to hide in the shrubbery. Hashem called out to Adam, “Where are you?”

“I heard Your sound in the garden,” he replied, “and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” “Who told you that you were naked?” said God. “Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?”

“The woman You placed by my side,” Adam responded, “she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”

Hashem turned to Eve and asked, “What have you done?”

“The snake duped me,” she replied, “and I ate.”

Then Hashem said to the snake, “Because you did this, you shall be cursed in greater measure than all cattle and all wild beasts. Upon your belly shall you crawl, and earth shall you eat all the days of your life!”

What kind of punishment is it—to be assigned to eating earth? When you think about it, it’s more of a blessing. Adam was told he’d have to toil all the days of his life and eat by the sweat of his brow. But the snake? He wouldn’t have to work hard at all. Earth is everywhere. He’d never have to wonder where his next dinner was coming from!

***

When a poor man comes to you for a loan, one approach to treating him with dignity is to lend him whatever money he is requesting. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “I’m not going to run after him and hold him to it. Instead, if he doesn’t pay it back, I’ll just ‘maaser it off,’ i.e., treat it as a donation and use my tithe money to settle the debt with myself.” Today’s daf discusses a pauper who died with an outstanding debt. When that happens, the creditor may “maaser off” the debt. But what if the poor man suddenly became wealthy? What happens then?

תַּנְיָא רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר הַמַּלְוֶה מָעוֹת אֶת הַכֹּהֵן וְאֶת הַלֵּוִי בְּבֵית דִּין וָמֵתוּ מַפְרִישׁ עֲלֵיהֶן בְּחֶזְקַת אוֹתוֹ הַשֵּׁבֶט וְאֶת הֶעָנִי בְּבֵית דִּין וָמֵת מַפְרִישׁ עָלָיו בְּחֶזְקַת עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל
הֶעֱשִׁיר הֶעָנִי אֵין מַפְרִישׁ עָלָיו וְזָכָה הַלָּה בְּמַה שֶּׁבְּיָדוֹ וְרַבָּנַן מַאי שְׁנָא לְמִיתָה דַּעֲבוּד תַּקַּנְתָּא וּמַאי שְׁנָא לַעֲשִׁירוּת דְּלָא עֲבוּד תַּקַּנְתָּא מִיתָה שְׁכִיחָא עֲשִׁירוּת לָא שְׁכִיחָא אָמַר רַב פָּפָּא הַיְינוּ דְּאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי חַבְרָךְ מִית אַשַּׁר אִיתְעַשַּׁר לָא תְּאַשַּׁר

“Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov says: ‘If one lent money to a Kohen or Levi in a court of law and he (the Kohen or Levi) died, he may tithe his produce and keep the tithes for himself in lieu of the debt repayment. Similarly, if he lent money in court to a pauper who subsequently died, he may separate the poor man’s tithe and keep it. If he lent money to a pauper who subsequently became wealthy, he may not separate tithes and keep them (because the debtor is not poor), and furthermore, the debtor need not repay the loan (since the assumption at the time of the loan was that there would be no repayment).”

Why did the rabbis institute a remedy for the case of sudden death, but not for the case of sudden wealth? Sudden death is common, whereas sudden wealth is uncommon. Rav Pappa says: “As they say, if you hear your friend suddenly has died, believe it. If you hear your friend suddenly has become rich, don’t believe it.”

Let’s talk about instantaneous wealth … it does happen! In recent years, the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries have surpassed a billion dollars on several occasions. There’s no way you can miss the news. All of a sudden, everybody’s buying a ticket. Imagine winning that incredible sum of money!

Honestly, though, why is everyone swept up in such a frenzied excitement when the jackpot reaches such extraordinary payouts? If you had the chance to win half a billion dollars, wouldn’t you be satisfied? How about a hundred million? Fifty million? I know I’d be happy with wins like that. Here’s the thing: There are lotteries for that kind of money every week. So, why does everyone rush out to buy the billion dollar ticket?

Actually, most of us wouldn’t even know what to do with a billion dollars. Have you ever made a list of what you would do if you won the billion? How far did you get before you realized that there’s more than enough money left to spend, even after you’ve made your way down your list of dream purchases? What would you do with the rest? Give it to charity? So, why should you buy the ticket? Let the charitable organization buy their own ticket! What are you really missing in your life that you would buy if you had a spare billion?

Rabbeinu Bachya teaches that your money is spent on three kinds of people. First, you use money to purchase your personal needs. Second, you use money to purchase the needs of your dependents, including your spouse, children, other family members and employees (as well as those who regularly depend on your charity). The third destination of your earnings is the amount you “save.” Now, we’re not talking about savings that you will use later in life—that’s already accounted for in the first two pots. This money ends up being bequeathed to other people or is, eventually, lost. For all you know—says Rabbeinu Bachya—you’re amassing all this wealth for your widow’s next husband!

There’s only so much money that you are destined to use during your lifetime. Anything else is superfluous exertion for funds you’ll never enjoy. Moreover—continues Rabbeinu Bachya—God has the power to give you exactly what you need to last you throughout your lifetime, even without you making any effort whatsoever. But He doesn’t hand it to you on a silver platter, because it’s His method to challenge your faith and maintain an ongoing relationship. The struggle for livelihood results either in men losing their faith or turning their eyes heavenward to beseech Hashem for their daily needs. In this vein, Reb Simcha Bunem of Peshischa explains how God’s admonishment to the snake constituted the ultimate curse. When sustenance is in abundance, one never turns to Hashem. It’s precisely our concern for lack that ensures we constantly communicate with our Father-in-Heaven. In truth, the struggle for sustenance is a hidden blessing!

That’s what Rav Pappa means when he says, “Don’t believe people who tell you they became rich overnight.” It does happen on the rare occasion. But generally, that’s not what Hashem wants. Not because He’s mean, but because He desires a constant relationship with you.

If you want to truly prosper, it takes hard work, commitment and trust in the Almighty. And all your dreams are completely achievable. You don’t need a billion dollars. You’d be more than satisfied if you just had a few more dollars in your pocket to buy those extra bits and pieces. The good news is that you don’t need to win the Powerball jackpot to get those dollars. In a moment’s notice, Hashem could give you a raise, or bring you a big client or two and you would have all the jackpot money you’re actually going to spend reasonably.

Write down the things you want and then set yourself goals on how you will achieve your dreams. You’ve always wanted to own a boat? While many people might deem that excessive, it doesn’t matter what they think. We all have our unique and personal aspirations. But it doesn’t take a billion dollars to buy a boat. It might cost fifty thousand, which sounds like a lot of money. But if you truly desire it, then with a good savings plan, you can own that boat you’ve always dreamed of. You want a second home in Israel? Again, start budgeting, planning and praying for

Hashem’s abundant hand, and you will be on the way to owning a piece of Eretz Yisrael.

Let’s conclude with two important reminders: First, Rabbeinu Bachya offers an additional reason why God wants us to work. Let’s say you won the Powerball tomorrow, and you had a billion dollars in the bank. You no longer need to work. What will you do? Explains Rabbeinu Bachya: Boredom leads eventually to sin. The blessing of going out to work is that it keeps us on the straight and narrow.

And second, let’s never lose sight of Ben Zoma’s teaching, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” You could literally be a billionaire and still be unhappy with life. True wealth is the belief that Hashem will provide you with everything you need to be happy in life. May you merit prosperity, abundance and success in all your material and spiritual endeavors!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the founder of the Center for Torah Values and the author of the 12-volume Transformative Daf series.

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