I am a stock trader, and I want to live a balanced life of spirituality, wealth, and joy. In my field, the primary measure of success is the money that is made. However, is there a limit to how "successful" one should be? That is, if I am able to live a well-balanced life, is it ok for me to be driven to make more and more money? It's clear that if money takes you away from all the other important things in life then you become a slave to it and that is indeed very bad; but what if you are able to live a very balanced life and simply strive to make more and more as a consequence of your desire to strive for more success and abundance?
It seems that your answer is embedded in your question. When money is "driving" and enslaving, this is indeed detrimental. But if as you say, you are leading a "balanced life of spirituality, wealth and joy", then what could be wrong in striving "for more success and abundance"?
Indeed, you chose to be a stock trader. Assuredly, you are good at your profession. So why not go for it? Why not become a "great trader" and use your wealth to lead a comfortable life, build a beautiful home, tithe your earnings, give tzedakah and do good in this world? Yet, since you have asked this question on JVO, perhaps you harbor a lingering suspicion of the potentially evil nature or seductive power of money? If so, why?
Perhaps you are troubled by the well known accusation that "money is the root of all evil"? However, the source for this distrust of money is Christian. The New Testament, 1 Timothy 6, 9-11, says: But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (King James Version).
Due to the recent economic upheavals, this claim that "money is the root of all evil" has become a popular issue for debate (for example: www.helium.com and www.debatewise.coml). In contrast, money in Jewish tradition is not "the root of all evil" but rather a blessing. Material abundance is a reward bestowed on our forefathers in the Bible. True, there is self reflection about the utilitarian drive of acquiring money in Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), chapter 5, verse 9: "One who loves money will never be satisfied with money. And the person who loves over-abundance rather than (being satiated with) basic nourishment, this also is vanity (emptiness)". Kohelet warns us of the potentially insatiable drive for excessive material gains. Some Rabbinic sayings warn against the problematic nature of wealth. Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1,13, states: “One who has one hundred wants two hundred", meaning that financial greed is a futile enterprise for it is a perpetual drive with no real satisfaction. Avot 2,7, sums up the problem of excessive acquisitions – "More possessions, More worry". And the Mishnah in Avot 4,1 defines a person who is "truly rich" as one who is happy with his lot. Not surprisingly, this idea can be found in the Greek ethical morality known to Jewish philosophers and ethicists - Aristotle contrasted pleonexia, the restless desire for more, with autarkia, the tranquil self-sufficiency of the sage.
However, Judaism does not elevate poverty to the status of an "ideal". Christian or Hindu ascetics might assume a vow of poverty, but not Jewish sages. The famous Hasidic figures such as Reb Zusha of Hanipol (Anipoli) (1718–1800) who lived in poverty, lived a contented, joyful and happy life despite their lack of material possessions and not because of it.
The predominant view followed today in the Orthodox world is reflected in the practical advice of the Spanish philosopher/physician R. Yehudah HaLevi (1075–1141). In his magnum opus, The Kuzari, 2,50, he argues against the ascetic life style - "It is not an appropriate "service of God" to live with minimal material acquisition when a person can acquire wealth without over-exerting himself and without harming his learning of the Divine Wisdom and doing good deeds. Certainly, this is the case for a person who has children to support or if his purpose is to use the money "for the sake of Heaven". For a person like this, wealth acquisition is commendable".
In sum, I suggest that as "a great trader" you open yourself up to receive the Divine Blessings of abundance with sincerity, honesty and devotion. In the Shema, recited twice daily, we read in Deuteronomy 11, 13-21 about the blessings of material abundance. So also, in the Grace After Meals, we ask: May He send us abundant blessing to this house and upon this table at which we have eaten". Money can be a tool to spread happiness, kindness, and munificence. After completing the atonement service on Yom Kippur, the High Priest offered a prayer requesting a year of bounty, success and financial independence. This is the "Torah of Money" approach to view our material resources through the prism of Well-Being, Hesed (loving kindness) and Gevurah (Strength).
1. A summary of the Jewish approach to avarice can be found in Rabbi Gil Student's blog, "Is Greed Good?" May 11, 2011.
2. Dr. Meir Tamari, “Jewish Ethics, the State and Economic Freedom” in (ed.) R. Aaron Levine, The Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics, Oxford, 2010, pg. 469: “Judaism does not see poverty as spiritual or desirable, nor the creation or increase of private individual wealth as evil or immoral.”
3. Robert and Edward Skidelsky, How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life (forthcoming in 2012).
The Hebrew term hamon denotes "too much" and the word tevuah (literally grain) implies basic life nourishment. The word hevel means vapor or breath, but Kohelet uses it metaphorically with a semantic range of evanescent and meaningless.
In reading your question, I sense that you are conflicted between various values that you find to be important, for example, spirituality and a sense of personal fulfillment. As you note, they can often be in competition with each other, particularly when money becomes part of the equation. Given the business in which you find yourself, money seems to be the essential goal, not only for your clients but for yourself as well and that is the source of much of what is troubling you.
The key here, I believe, is to ask yourself about the ultimate goal for which you are making the money. Yes, you are striving for more success and abundance but is that the true goal of your life? Is it merely to accumulate more and more in your bank account, believe that if you do so, you will then feel that this is the true measure of your success? If you are truly desirous of a balanced and spiritual life, I would say that you need to rethink this goal because it can only lead to unhappiness and futility for there is no end of making money, only a sense that you need and want more and more. There can be no ultimate satisfaction with this as your only goal. What is enough money? When have you succeeded? The means will soon become the end, leading to a very short sighted feeling of fulfillment.
However, if your desire to accumulate money as a means by which you can help others that is different.In Judaism we believe in setting aside a portion of our income for tithing to give tzedakah, then you are thinking not about the money and success as a goal unto itself, but truly as a means to an end. There are many who have chosen various tzedakah organizations (or created their own) to promote causes that are truly significant in their lives and in the lives of others. What is your passion?What speaks to you in your soul?Is it Israel? Jewish education? Social service organizations here or in Israel? Children or older adults? The poor or the hungry?Every morning we read in the prayer book prior to the formal start of our prayers, “these are the things whose fruit we eat in this world but whose full reward awaits us in the world to come:“honoring parents, acts of kindness, arriving early at the house of study morning and evening; hospitality to strangers; visiting the sick; helping the need bride; attending to the dead; devotion in prayer; and bring peace between people.” (Talmud Shabbat 127a)These are examples of eternal values, ones which move beyond our limited selves to the world at large, to show us that we can make a difference in the world in which we have been placed.
In Psalm 49, the psalm usually recited in a house of mourning, the end of one's life is laid out quite clearly. The accumulation of wealth ultimately accounts for little in the scheme of things. It doesn't matter if you have gathered much or little, if you are a simpleton or a person who has risen to a great position - the end is the same. It's quite sobering to read the Psalmist’s words “For all can see that wise men die, that the foolish and senseless all perish and leave their wealth to others…..But man, despite his splendor, does not endure; he is like the beast that perish.” However, I have always believed that we can live on in the deeds we have done in life, the acts of selflessness and righteousness that help to perpetuate the values that are truly important, they continue to last even after we are no longer here in this world.
To bring together the values of wealth, success and spirituality, you must do some deep soul searching. God has tried to lead us in a direction that speaks to the true meaning of life. I believe that if you can begin to travel down this path, you will help to create within yourself and others a life that has true significance and meaning.
Your question is interesting on many levels. I ask myself why you should feel guilty about doing well? Is doing well the same as doing good? Is there a balance?
There are many people in the Talmud who are sages, teachers and wealthy. The Talmud does not find fault with them nor in what they have achieved. Being wealthy was never a sin in Judaism. Being a miser, being stingy, being exploitative, etc., is condemned, of course but our tradition never teaches that someone is unworthy of being wealthy.
Being a stock trader is a more difficult job than most simply because of the nature of the beast. We are all familiar with insider trading, stepping on the competition to get ahead, lying, etc, - stories that we have emanated from the world of the stock market since the '80's. In fact, it seemed as if there was a time when every stock broker was corrupt. That is, of course, not the case. But you profession is one in which you have to keep your records clean, your ethics on the straight and narrow bridge, and if you fortunate enough, the honor you derive will not be only from wealth but from a shem tov - a good name.
The Talmud asks, "Who is wealthy?" It answers, "The one who is content with his lot." This can mean everything from 'stop kvetching about what you don't have and appreciate what you do have' to 'strive to achieve but don't bemoan everything you don't have.' There is a difference in these two points of view: one is defeatist and one is teaching caution. I accept the one that teaches conscious. For as the Talmud says, "If it wasn't for the yetzer ha-rah (the evil impulse) a man would not marry, build a house and make a living." The point is this: sitting back and merely accepting what you have been given in life is not acceptable. Ours is not a Calvanistic faith. Ours is a faith that values work and is not ashamed of wealth - honestly and properly earned and without inflicting pain on others to get it.
The yetzer ha-rah - the evil impulse - is easy to lose control of. That is why, in your life, you must constantly have a feedback mechanism so that you do not fall into the black hole of greed, unbalance and avarice. As Ecclesiastes says, "The eye is not content with seeing nor the ear with hearing." Once we have tasted wealth, we want more. But we can never acheive satisfaction fully. You need to understand this in your heart. Your family - with which you strive to seek balance - will be an important part of that formula. Your own faith which guides, inspires and informs your decisions will offer you balance. And your very willingness to even ask the question in the first places suggests that you are already sensitive to the problems.
Embrace your passion to sell stocks and embrace the reward of being a man or woman of integrity and virtue. With good luck, your portfolio will increase and among all people, your name will be mentioned with honor. Now THAT is something to be truly greedy for which, ironically, can never be bought.
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