The temptation of 'more'

It's hard to turn down money that's thrown at you, especially when it's other people's money put at risk.

money corruption 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy: SXC)
money corruption 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy: SXC)
The downturns in the world's economies are like a receding tide that reveals the detritus of the oceans once the waters that covered them are gone. Unfortunately many of the fraudulent schemes now being revealed involve people of prominence in the Jewish community. This is a sad example of how wealth can corrupt even the most philanthropic and generous of people. King Solomon stated that the two tests of life are poverty and great wealth. Both tax one's faith and dominate one's life. Both are relative, not absolute, situations. In a society where no one knows anyone who is rich, no one feels poor even if he may lack luxuries or extra money. In such a society someone who has an extra suit or shirt is considered wealthy. King Solomon warned that the danger of poverty is that one will be tempted to steal. A wealthy person who feels himself to be poor - who is determined to pursue the nymph of "more" - is poor, and his temptation to steal is strong. The great temptations that lie in attempting to earn a great deal of money are recorded for us throughout the Shulchan Aruch and the Talmud. The Torah does not grant room for fraudulent practices in the world of commerce. Noble goals such as attaining wealth to distribute to charity never justify false and unethical means. We are all tempted by wealth and by means of obtaining unrealistic returns on our investments. One should always be wary of those who promise great returns with minimum risks. In the real world these fantasies really never exist. It is amazing to me how wise and successful businesspeople and so-called financial experts themselves fall prey to such pie in the sky schemes and propositions. It is only the drive for having "more" at all costs that drives us to be blinded by greed and lose our sense of wisdom and proportion. Along with all the rabbis of my acquaintance, I can testify that of the many halachic issues that people present before us, very few concern business practices or monetary matters. It is almost a given that that section of Halacha is not really pertinent to our behavior and times. It takes a great financial crisis such as the one we are experiencing to bring home to us how exacting and pertinent these values and laws of monetary Halacha are to us. If one does not keep these Torah values in mind at all times, the temptations of "more" will always overwhelm us. Moral judgments should not be cast about other people, especially when they have now been publicly humiliated and brought low. I remember very well the temptations that faced seemingly successful investors or developers when people who wanted "more" literally thrust large sums of money at them, asking for an unreasonable return on their money. It is hard to turn down money that is being thrown at you, especially when it is other people's money which one is putting at risk. Only a strong sense of morality and honesty can withstand such pressures. The Talmud teaches us that it is not the mouse that steals but rather the hole in the wall that allows the mouse to enter that is the true robber. Those who throw their money at others to always obtain the maximum "more" are complicit in the fraud and in the eventual disaster that develops. The writer is a columnist for the Judaism section of UpFront www.rabbiwein.com