One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of a King and his 9 advisors, and how they all get lost and separated from each other as a result of a raging storm-wind.
In the story, each of the 10 lost members of the King’s court becomes the King (or Queen) of a different, misguided faction, until they are reunited. One misguided faction decides that sex is the main point of life; another, that fine food is the goal; yet another, that wisdom is the key thing to pursue.
And then there’s the inhabitants of the Land of Money, who are so obsessed with money that they literally worship the wealthiest members of their land as ‘stars’ and ‘gods’, while treating the poorer inhabitants as lowly animals. In the Land of Money, how much bling you’re flashing around, how many zeros you have in the bank, that’s the only thing that counts, and that’s the only measure of success.
Most of the story revolves around the Master of Prayer’s attempts to rescue the inhabitants of the Land of Money from their delusions, and to reunite the King’s lost advisors – both of which he ultimately accomplishes.
In the story, Rebbe Nachman explains that the lust for money is the hardest one to overcome.
Elsewhere, he brings that Pesach is the festival that comes to rectify the lust for money. Which is where things now start to dove-tail in a pretty neat way, because we all know that Pesach is always just SO expensive.
Even if you live in Israel, and you’re not going crazy trying to find Kosher for Passover plasticware in triple-sealed bags, Pesach still costs money. The matzahs aren’t cheap; the wine isn’t cheap; you need a seder plate, different pots, different plates – it’s all money. And never mind if you’re staying in a hotel in Israel for the holiday. And never mind double if you’re trying to celebrate it in Chut L’Aretz.
Why is this?
One reason could well be that all the expense of Pesach is coming to rectify the lust for wealth, that has so many people in its grip these days.
So it was fitting that I learned the following things last week: I learned that someone who owns a company with a huge £25 million annual turnover (and £6 million gross annual profit) gives an enormous £1,000 to charity a year. (Let me translate this into shekels, for any non-Brits reading this: £6 million = 36 million shekels. £1k = 6,000 shekels)
To put it another way, they’re giving 1/6000 of their annual income to charity.
Can you imagine the embarrassment of these people, when they get up to Heaven and God starts asking them about their business dealings (which is always the first question, as God also knows how to schmooze)? First, it’ll be that puffed-up, super-successful ‘I’m a billionaire’ answer; then, God will hit them with the ‘and how much did you give to charity, from all your millions of pounds?’
And that’s when it’ll hit them: nowhere near enough.
What an embarrassment!
This week, I also met a bunch of people from the UK, some of whom asked me the standard opening gambit question of:
‘Am I working now?’
I said no – proudly – and explained that I’m writing books about holistic health instead.
They immediately changed the subject to something more interesting and meaningful, i.e. the luxury flat they’re currently building, as home number three.
I waited to see if I was going to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that used to happen when I’d walk into some of the ‘superior’ and ‘financially successful’ minefields laid out all over the place in London. But you know what? It didn’t come! After waiting a few minutes for any delayed reaction, I realized that I’d finally got out of the Land of Money, and that I didn’t give a stuff that I’d failed the finances test.
I’ve seen so many people with so much more money than me, in so many different circumstances and places, this Pesach.
I used to feel a little jealous about the apparent ‘easy life’ they seemed to have, but now I’ve realized something profound that’s changed the whole picture: When you live in the Land of Money, you’re far away from God.
Until and unless that changes, it doesn’t matter how much cash you’ve stashed, how big your mansion is, or how impressive your annual turnover is, when it comes down to the things that really make life meaningful, happy and fulfilling, you’re still pulling a big, fat ZERO.