| Voice in the Crowd |

If You Were a Rich Man

Stop being bitter about rich people. Find the areas in which you’re a “have” and run with them


It’s not like this is the only issue we’re facing, but it seems like it gets more airtime than many others.  We’re a community almost completely split between haves and have-nots. That reality keeps creeping up in different incarnations, and so many of the other issues we struggle with (shidduchim, school acceptance, over-spending) are just an offshoot of the gap.

Of course, you can never know who belongs in which box. There are haves who are really have-nots, meaning that they have the house, vacation home and car, but l’maaseh, they don’t have… what’s the word, give me a minute, it’s at the tip of my tongue. Oh right, I have it. The money.

They don’t really have any money.

Then there are the have-nots, with the small, simple, overcrowded homes and outdated cars, but capable of writing out bigger checks than their counterparts on the other side of the dividing line.

Still, the massive influx of wealth into our community in recent years has brought us to this point, with many people in one category or the other.

And we’re very busy pointing at the “haves,” arguing that the high cost of living is their fault, the upswing in simchah expenses is their fault, the peer pressure in our youngest grades is their fault: if they wouldn’t live so big, we wouldn’t have to feel this pressure.

But maybe there’s another way. Maybe we should talk about it a little less.

I can’t propose solutions for the class divide, but I do think we can do a better job in controlling the message.

A few months ago I was sitting and listening to a conversation between an anxious parent and a wise rav. It was the time of year when classes were being assigned for the new school year, and this parent was worried because his son hadn’t been assigned to the rebbi he preferred.

He was annoyed about being turned down, he told the rav, because the only reason other parents had gotten their way and he had not was because they were more aggressive than he was. “I feel like such a loser, like I didn’t try hard enough for my son while those other parents didn’t stop, they called and called again, sending messengers and threats and promises. Why should my son suffer because I’m so submissive?”

The rav reassured him, repeating the usual lines about how often the less popular rebbi is the better one, but then he added another thought.

“I want to tell you something. Those kids with the pushy parents might get into the right class, camp, or seminary, but they don’t win, because at the end of the day, their parents are aggressive. So yes, they got in, but it comes with the fact that they were taught to use aggression, so any potential chinuch benefits from that superstar rebbi are negated. Your children see easygoing parents, and in the long run, that is much more beneficial to them than the more-in-demand rebbi.”


We need to find ways to teach our children (following an intricate but comprehensible code I invented: substitute the word “ourselves” for children wherever it appears in this article) that money is not the only currency. It looks like it is, because it gets you to Majorca for mid-winter break and wraps you in a Moncler coat, but there is a cost for winning too.

Not all rich people are aggressive, of course. Some of them just inherited from or married into aggressiveness. No, just a joke. Some of my best friends are rich. But most of them have their own stresses to deal with, obligations that are likely overwhelming, endless expectations that cannot be easily satisfied (think how many nephews, former campmates and random acquaintances send you links for the child’s cheder building campaign that is so close to their heart, and now imagine what life is like for a gvir!), demands not just on their money, but on their time and space as well.

Everyone has their stuff to deal with and we need to find other things to talk about.

We need to find ways to celebrate parents spending quality time with children, for example:  you’re a have, your parents took you bowling!  Or, you’re a have, there’s nothing quite like Pesach at home and your mother makes that happen for you. Or, you’re living a charmed life, buddy, you get to go sledding in your own driveway and come in for hot cocoa, no terrifying chairlifts or scary slopes! (Okay, the last one is lame, but you get the point.)

And if we’re not telling them that, it’s because we ourselves don’t believe it.

I write this as a not-rich person. (If something changes between now and the printing of this article, so be it.)

Stop being bitter about rich people. Find the areas in which you’re a “have” and run with them. The one-percenters can’t buy musical abilities or a good jump shot, and they can’t even buy great shalom bayis. Find your wealth, whatever it is, wherever it is, and make sure your children know how rich they are.

(To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the rabbanim don’t continue those conversations with wealthy mispallelim and talmidim about tzniyus and responsibility, I’m just saying that by being so busy with what “they” are doing, the rest of the community is compounding the problem.)

Many times, we’ve heard speakers mention Rav Moshe Feinstein’s insight, that a generation of parents who raised their children with the mantra that “ess iz shver tzu zein a Yid,” were sadly deprived of the nachas they hoped for when their children decided that they would try to find something less “shver.”

When it comes to money, we — the media, the askanim, and the parents — need to kvetch a little less and deal with it a little more. If you try, it’s even possible to contemplate the sheer scope of what they give and how many people they carry, and replace some of that resentment with admiration.

True, it’s not easy to swing the tuitions, the camps, the seminaries and the simchahs, but blaming them won’t solve the problem, and anyway, it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. (May He keep the gates of brachah open and may Yidden have parnassah in abundance, Amen!)

Think of a wealthy person you know, and then think about this: there is likely something in your life they envy. There, you are the rich guy. Make sure your kids know that.

My local bank’s motto is “You’re richer than you think.”

It might not be true in the way they mean it, but for us, people gifted with the faith to know that no one has what they aren’t meant to have, it’s not only true, it’s the whole truth.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 898)

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