Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz: Eternal Wealth


lipschutz1.jpgMadoff. The fascination with this man’s downfall and the manner in which he hoodwinked shrewd, intelligent people seems bottomless. Why is the public appetite for details about how he defrauded people so insatiable?

The thousands of people who were wiped out financially when the web of deceit ripped apart have yet to be quantified. Is it because he abused the trust of so many? Is it because he took every last dime of little old ladies who are now left penniless? Is it because he took money from charities when he knew that he wasn’t really investing their money but rather passing it off to the next sucker in line? Is it because of the unprecedented number of people and charities whose trust he abused and money’s he lost?

Is it the spectacular amounts of money that he supposedly gobbled up that is driving the public’s obsession with this man?

He’s not the first crook and sociopathic liar, and he won’t be the last. He’s not the first person to look into people’s eyes and lie to them. The world is, regrettably, full of fast-talkers who sweet-talk people into a variety of schemes aimed at fleecing them.

Most of us have had the experience of talking to a habitual, bold-faced liar – and realizing that we are being lied to. Most people are intelligent enough to at least be on the lookout for charlatans.

It is true that we live in a period when we are more susceptible to those who are blessed with the gift of oratory and the ability to offer glib optimistic promises. It is doubtful if the current president-elect would be in his position if he wouldn’t have been blessed with the gift of oratory. There are many other individuals in leadership positions who are looked up to by a variety of people strictly because of the way they communicate and not necessarily because of their superior knowledge or intellect. Can it be that the fascination with Madoff is that people are enamored by his salesmanship abilities?

What is so different about this person? Why is everyone so fascinated by his caper?

The fabulously rich generally view themselves and their lives as more important than those of the “little people” who have to sweat for a living. The culture of power and privilege that comes with immense wealth makes the rich feel superior to common folk. With a multitude of subordinates catering to their every need and want, and a way of life so extravagant and luxurious that it defies description, they seem to inhabit a parallel universe.

But it’s more than that. The delusion of superiority enjoyed by the rich is reinforced by the masses who pay homage to them. Even clergy who speak out against the worship of money defer to the rich and bend over backwards to please the wealthy in their community.

A rich man commands respect and attention wherever he goes. People point him out when he walks into a room and seek his counsel on various matters, most of which he often knows nothing about.


Everyone wants to be associated with success and, more often than not, the barometer of success is the size of a gentleman’s bank account. Usually it matters not how the money was made.

With very few exceptions, this is the way of the world. Honesty is viewed as naïveté. One who declines to participate in a money-making scheme because of dubious ethics or refuses benefits he may not be entitled to is scorned as a fool.

The hardworking electrician or craftsman who works from early in the morning to late at night, never overcharging and remaining fastidious about paying his taxes, may not earn anyone’s admiration. It’s the one who cuts corners, gives dishonest answers on government forms, overcharges and plays fast and loose with the rules who often seems to be more respected for his “accomplishments.”

An honest middle class man who pays his tuition and is punctilious in the giving of maaser and charity to the less fortunate isn’t respected enough for his integrity and reliability. The same goes for the kindhearted fellow who doesn’t push his weight around trying to dictate what others should do.

We have in our midst people of sterling character, individuals who are intelligent, capable and resourceful, who can envision solutions and follow through on a project to completion. These people realize that all their talents and possessions are gifts from Hashem. They remain humble and G-d fearing. It is this kind of person whom we need in positions of leadership.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t appreciate these people. We look for people with glitz and glamour surrounding them. Awed by their material success, we put our trust in these people, imagining that they possess the brilliance and competence to lead us to success.

Then, suddenly, our eyes are opened when we see the wealthy cut down by the cheapest trick in the book. We are astounded. How were such successful and prosperous people taken in? How did they allow themselves to ignore the most basic laws of investing that relatively unsophisticated people are familiar with?

The very people who inspired so much envy and hero-worship, and who we turned to for advice and guidance, have been exposed as fatally blinded by their hunger for more money and power. It fascinates people to realize that the rich are no smarter than they, and may even be less intelligent. Middle class people are amazed to see that the wealth they so covet is fleeting and meaningless, while the money they have earned and the homes they own are not figments of imagination and bustable balloons of fantasy.

The media will get over its obsession with Madoff; the public will soon lose its fascination with this story. Yet, long after the allure of this bizarre incident fades, we must remember its lessons.

Don’t rush for quick gain. Don’t become enamored by people who seem to prosper no matter what the economic situation. Don’t judge a person by the amount of money he has.

Remember that prosperity is a Divine gift intended for the recipient to better mankind and those around him. He who uses his gifts wisely has fulfilled his obligations and accomplished what is expected of him. The one who disburses his largesse to mosdos of Torah and chesed has earned eternity for himself and his loved ones. He who squanders it in selfish pursuits leads an empty and purposeless life. He fritters away the benefits he could have accrued in this life and wastes numerous opportunities for eternity.

People who lead honest lives don’t chase after pots of gold behind the rainbow. They make their money the old-fashioned way. They avoid subterfuge and dishonesty. When investing, they take great care to diversify, never putting all their eggs in one basket. They know that nothing works in a straight upward curve; life has its ups and downs that affect every sphere of finance.

They don’t become broken and give up hope when things are pointing down. They maintain their emunah and bitachon. In the good times, they don’t flaunt their success and don’t force others to conform to their meshugasin. They remain committed to the greater good at all times.

We are currently experiencing a financial recession. Many good people are losing not only their jobs but their savings and the possessions they worked so hard to earn. Everyone we know seems to have been forced, at least somewhat, to lower their standard of living. In the dark as to what tomorrow will bring, many are now cutting back on all forms of spending and holding on to what they have.

People upon whom charitable organizations depended to continue their work are no longer in a position to be of much financial assistance. People with hearts overflowing with the desire to help, and who formerly supported yeshivos and enabled them to maintain the golden chain stretching back millennia, are themselves broken-hearted and in need of support and mercy.

In difficult straits, people may find themselves contemplating various unethical schemes to attain wealth and success by taking moral shortcuts. When tempted by dishonesty and duplicity, one has but to remember Madoff’s downfall. In the end, the truth always emerges.

Frauds and lies will only get you so far. Eventually, the treachery will catch up with you. Together with your wealth, all those adoring friends who couldn’t do enough for you will disappear. Everything temporary comes to a crashing end. Only truth is enduring.

At times like these, we search for things that will uplift and inspire us positively. Neginah, song, has the power to do that in unparalleled ways. Good Jewish music is intended to reach the recesses of our neshamos and make us into better people. Simple poetic words of timeless truth when combined with proper music have a way of doing just that.

The following Sephardic song can serve to reinforce emunah during these bleak times when nothing seems to going right. It’s kind of facile to read it without the music, but you’ll get the point. The words, in Hebrew, are more or less as follows:

Im lefamim nidmeh sheklum lo mistadeir,

Tzarich lehaamin ulevakeish,

Shel’olam assur lehitya’esih,

Lehitchazeik ki yeish lanu baleiv,

Nitzutz shel emunah shemehavaheiv,

Vehu harbeh yoter chazak mikol k’eiv.

Ein davar, zeh yaavor,

Tamid bachoshech mistateret keren ohr,

Assur af pam le’abeid et hatikvah,

Rak latet ulekabeil b’ahavah.

If at times it seems that nothing is working out right,

You have to believe,

Never give up,

Because we each have in our hearts,

A spark of belief that flickers,

And that spark is stronger than any pain.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing,

It will pass,

Never give up hope,

Just continue to give and to receive with love.

As the song proclaims, let us stay strong and cling to our beliefs. Let us cast aside the alma deshikra that tempts us every day, and strengthen our connection to the One Above and His Torah. In that merit, we will be zoche to greet Moshiach Tzidkeini, may he come speedily, in our day.


  1. thanks for this.

    actually these are the basic timelss truths we were taught by our rebbeim in cheder [elemntry school]. thanks for reviewing them for us.

  2. I have worked with the Chevra Kadisaha and have participated in over hundreds of taharot. I NEVER saw any rich or “famous” people buried with any bank books or blank checks in their possession.
    The mussar is obvious, our responsibility is to do good and be good in this world, always using what HKB’H gives us to help and share. How sad that so many worship the present day Egel HaZahav or money !

  3. This should inspire all of us to make the most of the gifts given by Hashem. Even when you don’t get the ideal job, become resourceful and use whatever position you have for the benefit of the masses. A rebbe who leaves chinuch should use his kochos and be resourceful to do Partners in Torah. The most inspirational story is about a rebbe who lost his position for no valid reason who has gone out and works with the at-risk kids in the city, even those whose parents were the Roshei Hamidabrim to get rid of him. This man took a bad situation, and was resourceful enough not to give up his talents and birchas Hashem simply because of stupid politics.

    These are all examples of nedivus, giving for the sake of giving with NO payment in return. This is true wealth which will never leave. May Hashem bless these wonderful people and be meshalem schorom. They are an inspiration to all of us, and are true leaders despite their financial situations.