Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, somehow a malfunction occurred in my Pesach outing plans, and I ended up tripping through the glass into the Land of Money*.
We wound up at this swanky, newly-built apartment complex overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where we were told we could park on Level Minus 2. I nearly crashed into a concrete wall, because there was only Minus 1. Later on, we discovered that Minus 2 was carefully hidden behind a retractable Iron Curtain, policed with cameras that didn’t recognize our car as ‘belonging’.
I knew the feeling.
One of the residents of the Land of Money came down to greet us, as we were ushered into the expensive but sterile lobby, then over to the elevators with no buttons.
“Why are there no buttons?” I wanted to know.
“Some Arab got in here a few months ago from the parking, and started visiting all the floors and they caught him on camera,” came the explanation. “The residents all went mad, so the management changed the elevator and now it will only open on your own floor.”
“How does it know what floor your apartment is on?”
He flashed me the round blue plastic toggle on his keychain, as he pressed it to the screen reader outside the elevator.
Man, this is really a prison, I thought to myself.
We got up to the swanky five-room cell, hidden behind its ominous security door, and walked into an atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
Not even the stunning view, or the massively-colorful artwork could take your mind off the oppressive, gloomy feeling of suppressed anger and resentment, that was swirling all over the place like a toxic cloud.
The sofa was oversized and pure white. It was covered in a cheap white blanket, and one of the inhabitants of the Land of Money sat uncomfortably perched on the edge of it. God forbid, that a speck should land on that purity and sully it! God forbid, that someone’s careless heels should leave a scuff-mark on the couch, or that it’s perfection should be creased or diminished in any way!
“Sit down, sit down!” they told me heartily. But I was too scared of the couch to want to comply. So, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, admiring the view, then proffered the two boxes of fresh strawberries I’d brought as an offering to appease the gods of the Land of Money.
This started a panic.
I know they aren’t so fussed about kashrut, so they’re not worrying about bug infestation. So what? What is going on here, what?!
It took me a couple of minutes of deciphering worried glances and barked commands to sit down at the table to figure out the problem: Strawberries contain red juice – lots of it – and red juice stains. And the expensive designer chairs around the carefully upholstered glass dining table were first in the line of fire.
They had their hand-sewn, cheap grey covers to protect them – which presumably would be whipped off whenever all humans had left the premises, restoring them to their pristine appearance – but even so. Were those covers enough to defend against two boxes of strawberries in the hands of young children?
It took ten minutes of strict policing and worried hovering with wipees until the residents of the Land of Money could breathe out again.
In the meantime, I started to find the atmosphere totally choking and suffocating.
No-one asked me how I was doing – why would they? In the scale that the Land of Money uses to measure worth, I’m less than a cockroach. I have no big investments to boast about, no easy cash to flaunt, no designer clothes to swish around in.
Whatever money I have, I spend.
I’d just spent a small fortune having different residents from the Land of Money for Seder, where no expense was spared to try to make it a good evening for the (not religious) people attending.
They didn’t offer to help cover any of the expenses, natch, because they were ‘Stars’ in the Land of Money, and as I’ve mentioned, my net worth ranks me alongside the ‘animals’ that are expected to sacrifice themselves for the idols in that place.
“Let’s get out of here, and go to the icecream place down the road,” one of the kids suggested, and I jumped at the idea far too enthusiastically.
Freedom! Let’s get out of this poisonous cloud of choking gashmius ASAP!!!
Somehow, the button-less lift with its million electronic eyes knew to let us out at the lobby, and we bounded out of the elevator just as an expensively-dressed group of secular Americans were waiting to crowd back in.
They caught one whiff of my husband’s payot (side-curls) and their eyes immediately grew large in their faces, and almost fell out. You could hear what they were thinking:
What is something like this doing in our building?!?!
Strange to say, I had the same thought.
What are we doing here, in this awful, sterile, dead place where the money has killed every spiritual impulse, every natural kind tendency of the human heart, stone dead?
As soon as we got outside, we breathed easier again, the kids lightened up, and the conversation that had frozen into stilted rivulets of polite small talk up in the apartment started to gush forth with much more genuine warmth and interest.
“You have to get out of there, it’s killing you.”
That’s what I told the prisoner who I’d come to visit in the Land of Money.
“Yeah, it’s a gilded cage. But I’m stuck in it,” he told me back.
And we both knew that at least for now, he’s right.
I came home so thankful to God for so many things.
Thanks, God, that my armchair is 15 years old, but people can eat strawberries on it without anyone risking a heart attack. Thanks, God, that you made my business fail when it did, so I would put so much more of my effort into building relationships than building my bank balance. Thanks, God, that I’m not so obsessed with money that I’m totally close-fisted about sharing what I have. Thanks that I don’t spend all my time ‘complaining’ about how other people aren’t giving me value for money.
And most of all, God, thanks for getting me out of the poisonous, toxic atmosphere of the Land of Money, where people can’t talk to each other, and the only thing that matter is how it all looks.
The apartment looked stunning (underneath all the cheap covers….) but felt totally dead and deadening.
And not for the first time, I learnt that freedom is priceless, and that too much money truly is the worse curse in the world.
- The Land of Money appears in Rebbe Nachman’s Tale called ‘The Master of Prayer’. It’s a place where all the residents believe that making money is the only true purpose of life, and where the people with the most money are literally worshipped as ‘gods’ and ‘stars’.