Daf Yomi Nedarim 80
Some years ago, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett joined forces to create The Giving Pledge. The goal was to have billionaires pledge to give away half of their fortunes to charity. They could do so either during or after their lifetimes. Thank G-d, the project has been a major success, raising $125b to date.
But why stop at fifty percent? Does anyone really need five hundred million dollars? There are billions of people in the world living on less than a dollar a day. Imagine if these billionaires would pledge to give away 90% or 99% of their wealth! On that score, does any of us need our tens of thousands of dollars? What right do we have to take vacations and buy nice cars when there are people in the world living at subsistence levels?
Concerning a spring of water belonging to the residents of a town: if it’s a question of providing life (drinking water) for you or for non-residents, your life comes first. Life for your cattle or their cattle? Your cattle comes first. Water for your laundry or their laundry? Your laundry comes first. Water for your laundry or their life? Their life comes first. Rabbi Yossi says your laundry takes precedence.
The Ran explains: According to Rabbi Yossi, failure to launder causes distress and is therefore a necessity of life (not a luxury).
Judaism doesn’t ask anyone to give away all their money to those less fortunate. Nor does it insist that we should all share everything equally in some socialist utopian manner. As Rabbi Yossi avers, it’s nice to give away your drinking water, but if that means you won’t have water to do your laundry, you’re not obligated to do so.
The Almighty has given different resources to different people in life. If you were born into a country with abundant resources, you don’t need to feel guilty that half the world’s population would love to immigrate to your country, if only given the chance. G-d grants different lots to different people. In our Gemara, one particular town had access to a natural spring that others didn’t. Rabbi Yossi teaches that they shouldn’t feel bad about doing their laundry with the water when there are others who don’t even have decent drinking water. That’s in the Almighty’s hands.
But it does stop and make you think. Even according to Rabbi Yossi, the key determinant here is the difference between necessities and luxuries. If doing your laundry was a luxury, he would agree that you should provide the other people with the drinking water first. In other words, after your basic needs are fulfilled, you certainly must strive to help others achieve their basic needs.
For some of us that means putting a cap on the amount of time we invest in chasing the dollar just in order to buy another car, go on another vacation. Of course, if your goal is to have more to give away to charity, then by all means work as hard as you can! But if your goal is just to have more money for luxuries, you need to ask yourself whether that time and effort couldn’t be better spent on more charitable endeavours.
As you go through life, you should be able to work less and contribute more. More money. More time. More of yourself. If you are working just as hard today as you were thirty years ago, you must ask yourself, ‘Am I working to pay for necessities or for luxuries?’ And if the answer is the latter, could you be directing your time and money to more Heavenly pursuits?
Your necessities come before your obligations to anyone else. If the Almighty blessed you with prosperity, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Beyond that, however, you must strive to ensure that everyone’s necessities are seen to. May you merit more than enough to fulfill your needs and wants and the needs of those around you!