I have a quiz, that I share with people on occasion, that assesses ones beliefs around wealth (email me if you want to take it). One of the beliefs it deals with is whether wealth will make you less spiritual, and I’ve repeatedly seen religious friends report that yes, they believe wealth will hurt their spirituality.
This week’s Torah portion deals with issues of wealth, and gives plenty of fodder for those claiming wealth undermines spirituality. After all, wealth drives Lot from his uncle Avram. He goes to live with the people of Sodom, who are known for both their wealth and corruption.
Yet, God also blesses Avram with great wealth, and this blessing doesn’t stop with him. All of our forefathers, and most of our greatest leaders in the Biblical period were blessed with great wealth. The Talmud even tells us that all of the prophets were wealthy.
So which is it? Is wealth a positive spiritual force or a negative one?
I like the characterization of T. Harv Eker, who argues that wealth is a lubricant. It doesn’t make bad people good or good people bad. Rather, it has the power to make your actions more effective, with the result that it can make bad people worse and good people better. One need only look at the efforts of the Gates Foundation to see that great wealth can fuel positive changes in the world that would be impossible without it.
What does this mean for us? It means that the pursuit of wealth should never wedge out personal growth and the refinement of the self. Constantly work on yourself, and wealth with magnify the impact of all that you do in the world, as it did for our forefathers. Neglect your own growth to pursue wealth, and that wealth may indeed feel like a curse, driving out your connection to anything greater.
May we all be blessed like Avraham, with both wealth and the capacity to use it for good.