A few hours before I sat down to pen this column, we were sitting around the office and talking about that, when it comes to money, the worst character traits of people come out. I have written before about that when it comes to inheritance, even the closest of families can be torn apart. But it’s not just that. The lengths that people will go to save NIS 25 without realizing the ramifications it may have on others is mind-boggling.
I’ll never forget that when I first started in the business, a cagey client figured out that there was an inconsistency in the way I charged clients and that if they committed to one fee model and then changed a week later, they could build a portfolio for free and then avoid paying any annual fee as well. That I ended up working for free was of no matter. What was important was that money was saved. I can only imagine what would have happened if the shoe was on the other foot.
When it comes to money, too often, ethics and morals are thrown out the window, and the only thing of importance becomes the money itself.
A Jewish perspective on valuing people over assets
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about how just before the Israelites were about to start the process of conquering the land of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuven, which had huge amounts of livestock, asked Moshe for permission to take their share in the Trans-Jordan.
They said, “We will build sheep pens for our livestock here and cities for our children” (Numbers 32:16). Moshe then goes ahead and berates them for letting the others fight to conquer the land, while they settle down. Furthermore, their reluctance to cross would have a demoralizing effect on the others, just as the report of the spies had done 38 years earlier. They then pledged to join the war effort and would not settle their land until the land was conquered.
Then Moshe agrees and says, “Build towns for your children and pens for your sheep. And make sure you keep your word” (Numbers 32:24). It’s interesting that Moshe changes the order from their initial request and places building towns first and pens for the sheep second.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand writes: “Oh no, Moshe replied. You have it backwards. First, ‘build towns for your children.’ Make sure you have attended to the needs of your children. Afterwards, you can also build ‘pens for your sheep.’ First you take care of your children; then you worry about your cattle. When we look at this incident, we say to ourselves, ‘How foolish can people be? How warped can their values be? How can anyone put the welfare of his cattle before the welfare of his children?’
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, something bizarre that happened thousands of years ago. It is an everyday phenomenon. People become focused on their livelihood, on developing a business, on advancing professionally, on building a practice, and their kids get lost in the shuffle. They don’t realize that they are making the exact same mistake as the tribes of Gad and Reuven. But it is true. It happens all too often.”
When I was in college, I had an assignment to interview a small businessperson. I was lazy and procrastinated. With no alternative and a few days left before it was due, I interviewed my father (he should live and be well) who owned a small business. I can’t tell you how amazing that was. I encourage all children, of any age, to interview their parents.
It was such an eye-opening experience and gave me a much larger impression of who my father is and what drove him – not just what I viewed through my eyes, but how he viewed things as well. He told me what had made him most proud was that he never spent a night on business away from his family. I can publicly admit that I haven’t lived up to that, as I used to travel frequently for business.
Especially today, in the world of social media, where sharing pictures of lavish purchases, gourmet meals, and trips to exotic locales gets lots of “likes,” it’s very much just a fantasy. The constant desire for more materialism is seen by many as a pathway to happiness, but does buying the latest electric vehicle really make one happier a month after it was purchased?
I am not against buying things and making money. Heck, helping people with money is what I do for a living. It’s just that over decades of being in the “money business,” I see the downside as well.
Just remember that money is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Our children are far more important, and to downgrade them to second fiddle in order to make another shekel or two is both damaging to them and ultimately to society as well.
It’s now the summer, and peer pressure to go on a “cool” vacation is very real. Keep focused on what’s really important. It’s not how far you fly; it’s about spending quality time with the kids.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.
Aaron Katsman is author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing and is a licensed financial professional both in the US and Israel. He helps people who open investment accounts in the US.