Does Poverty Invalidate Torah?
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: Why is it that I see people who keep the Torah are suffering so much financially? This tells me that it is of no use to be observant.
Mesora: You err by thinking that all people derive "success" from financial excess. You also err in thinking that troubles are negatives.
Let me explain: A perfected individual will not derive happiness from wealth as an ends. In fact, "increase of possessions increases anxiety"(Chapters o the Fathers, 2:7). The perfected person derives his enjoyment from the pursuit of wisdom - uncovering more of God's knowledge each day. Any obstacle to this goal is truly a pain to him. He cares little for possessions, fame, and large bank accounts. These material and ego satisfactions fail to satisfy man's true nature - his intellect. They deter man from satisfying his curiosities concerning the world, justice, and knowledge of God and His Torah. Provided he is not starving or without shelter, the perfected individual pays minimal attention to the physical. He satisfies himself with life's necessities, "bread and salt he eats", and continues in his studies. He does not derive enjoyment from physical diminution, but his lack is really a result from the magnetic pull that wisdom has on his personality. He is in such a happy state when he uncovers more truths, that his hunger pains do not outweigh his interest in learning more.
This is an important distinction. Monks and the like minimize physical pleasures as an ends. Their asceticism is a focal point of their lives. They mistakenly think that such physical diminution is a perfection in itself. But without wisdom there cannot be perfection, so they miss the mark. But the truly wise and perfected individual actually has no "goal" of detracting from his physical needs. Rather, he is so attracted to, and submerged in the world of ideas, that he only pays attention to his bare necessities, without which he could not continue to study God's world. His minimalistic physical possession are not a ends, but a result of his distraction caused by wisdom's light. In fact the Torah teaches, "Torah comes from the poor." This does not mean that poor people are wiser. It means as we have said, that one involved in Torah is so preoccupied with its marvels, that he spends less time amassing wealth. But we should note that at times, the Torah does demand that man fasts. This is in order that 1)man recognize his reliance on God for his sustenance, and 2)so man may reduce his ego and reflect on his faults. But this is not a way of life, to be fasting all the time. Man must be in a state of happiness - this is how he can function best to enjoy God's Torah. In contrast, others feel guilty when they live an enjoyable existence. This is not God's goal. All creation points towards a state of man which is enjoyable.
Regarding troubles, the righteous are actually given more troubles than others. Why? Because it is through such hardship that they are forced to reflect on their natures, searching for a just reason for God's afflictions. This reflection will result in their detection of some flaw, whereby they can only now overcome, and perfect themselves and their ideas. The reason given by the Torah for the barren state of all the matriarchs is, "God loves the prayers of the righteous." This does not mean God needs man's prayers. This is obviously impossible. God made man, and God is perfect: The Creator cannot benefit from His creation, and the Creator is already complete without man. So my brother, don't feel that the righteous have it as bad as you think. While you pity them their troubles, they may very well be rejoicing in their free time to study, and in their punishments from God, as such trials bring out their perfection, and a more joyous life.
It is hard for an American or one living with affluence to feel satisfied with the life displayed by a Torah scholar. Many say, "who wants such a life?" But until one takes the time to search the ideas of the Torah for himself, he will remain ignorant of God's greatest gift to mankind. I personally would not want to be that man who forfeits his greatest enjoyment, all because he allows the ignorant masses to provide an argument for amassing physical wealth. It takes time to master Talmud and Torah study, but you will be thankful in the deepest way that you gave it a chance. God will certainly assist all those who wish to live the life He outlined for us.
Don't make the other mistake of judging the lives of the righteous by a momentary snapshot. For what they suffer through now, can produce a greater existence later. An event does not have significance in the framework of the moment, but in context of the entire lifespan of a person. Jacob's life was threatened by his twin Esav. He fled and ended up creating a nation of twelve tribes. Channah suffered a barren existence for many years, only to use such a deprivation to contemplate her nature and perfect herself. She was eventually granted a child, who through her perfection, became the great prophet Samuel.
Related article: Why the Good Suffer

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