Thursday, January 10, 2008


The writings of our Sages can be compared to a crown, the crown of Torah which is referred to beautifully in the Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 4,17. This crown is studded with the precious gems of wonderful insights of instruction and inspiration. One of my most beloved Jewish "crowns" is that of the Maharal of Prague. (Rabbi Judah Loew, seminal Jewish thinker, 1525-1609.) A sparkling jewel on his crown is a delightful play on words that reflects the spiritual importance and endurance of the quality of gratefulness in one's life.
He quotes Ecclesiastes, Chapter 5,9,which points to the insufficiency of material wealth as a source of happiness. "A lover of money, lit.silver, never has his fill of money." The Maharal cleverly correlates the Hebrew word for money or silver-kessef- to the verb-kassof- to long for, to desire. Not only is material wealth a natural desire, but embedded in this desire for money is the psychological risk of on-going frustration and unhappiness because of wealth's inability to satisfy our human need for fulfillment.
Furthermore, another Hebrew word for wealth- zahav-gold, contains a double dimension of meaning that can be either detrimental or helpful in the pursuit of spiritual happiness. He exercises another word play, dividing the Hebrew world-zahav-into its two syllables, each of which spells out another word: zeh-this, hav-give.
In other words, if the individual is attached to the need to have gold given to him, then he is trapped in the web of endless desire. However, if one understands the meaning as "to give to others," namely, the mitzvah of zedakah, the sacred duty to give and to share with others, especially out of a recognition of having been given to by God, then gold becomes the golden opportunity for the acquisition of gratefulness and inner spiritual satisfaction.
Perhaps this is the reason that gold -zahav-is regarded as more valuable than silver-kessef.

Grateful for the Torah of our tradition.

The Grateful Rabbi

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