Sukkot and the importance of money priorities

Let’s use the second part of this holiday season to focus on using our money for things that we truly need.

Israeli shekels (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli shekels
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“We spend our way to the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake. Thrift is inimical to our being.” - J. D. Vance
The High Holy Days are over. Hopefully we were successful in our own personal re-centering, getting back to our core values. As I have written previously, while not the essential aspect of this time period, both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have financial themes. Whether it’s that our financial year is determined, the centrality of charity as an essential weapon in getting a favorable judgment to the high priest praying for economic success as he leaves the holy of holies, practical money issues take a central role alongside spiritual re-awakening.
Due to this unusual, corona-influenced holiday season, many people participated in outdoor services. After Yom Kippur, many who I prayed with said that this was the most emotionally moving Yom Kippur they had experienced. Religious and secular together on the street and sidewalks with no boundaries separating them, praying as the sun set and then awaiting in anticipation of the shofar signaling the end of the day, was such a strong display of national unity so sorely lacking in our current situation.
Now it’s time for Sukkot. Describing the holiday Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes, “Sukkot was the time when, in the agricultural society of old, farmers found themselves the wealthiest they would be all year. It was the time of the harvest. The granaries were full. They were blessed with far more than their immediate needs. It was their moment of affluence. So the Torah commanded them to leave their homes and to sit in simple frail huts through whose coverings they could look up at the heavens and remind themselves of the source of their blessings. They needed to recall, in a festival appropriately named “the season of our joy,” that true happiness comes not from our possessions but from our priorities, not from what we own but from who we are, not from our mansions that offer physical comforts but from our families with whom we create everlasting bonds of love and affection.” Rabbi Blech’s description of Sukkot has even more relevance in our current corona world. After all, it was just seven months ago that the Israeli, US and global economies were in many respects stronger than they had ever been. Not to get overly religious but maybe corona is also out there to bring us back to reality and for us to remember the source of our blessings?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against creating wealth and trying to make money. After all my job is to grow wealth for clients. It’s just that the pursuit of money can’t be the be all and end all of life. I remember when I was a teenager back in Seattle once seeing a bumper sticker which read “whoever dies with the most money wins.” While that may be cute, it misses the point of having wealth. I have written here about the famous story of Walmart founder Sam Walton. On his death bead he said that he “blew it.” Here was a billionaire who created this amazing company, but as he was dying he realized that he didn’t spend nearly enough time with his family.
Walton’s regret is what makes the story of Chuck Feeney, co-founder of retail giant Duty Free Shoppers, so inspirational. Feeney spent 38 years giving away to charity his entire fortune of billions of dollars. Years ago he set aside $2 million for his and his wife’s retirement and started giving the rest away to charity. Two weeks ago he finished!
Let’s use the second part of this holiday season to focus on using our money for things that we truly need. My daughter was walking back from the park earlier this week and she told us that she saw a few people going through garbage cans looking for food. I stopped off in a fruit and vegetable store in an affluent Jerusalem neighborhood recently and was told by the shop owner that due to the economic situation he has many people coming in to shop who can’t afford to pay for their food.
It was just a few days ago that we were all able to pray together. Now is the time to continue this and look out for each other as well. There are many hurting financially. Maybe we should forgo some small luxury and help out those in need. Chag Sameach and may we remember the lesson of Rabbi Blech, “that true happiness comes not from our possessions but from our priorities.” 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 the author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.; [email protected]