Daf Yomi Gittin 47
A friend of mine made Aliyah in his early fifties. I was talking to him about his wealthy friends back in America. I asked him why they don’t make Aliyah.
‘Surely they have more than enough money to live comfortably in Israel, even if they never worked another day in their life!’ I remarked.
‘It’s not about the money,’ my friend replied, ‘it’s about the thrill of the deal. Every deal they pull off makes them even more driven to succeed at the next, bigger, better deal. That’s what they live for!’
Reish Lakish would sit and eat and drink.
Rashi explains: He would always consume whatever income he had made that day without putting aside savings for the future.
Reish Lakish’s daughter asked him, “Don’t you desire to have enough money to buy a bed?”
“My daughter,” he replied, “my tummy is my bed.”
When he passed away, he left behind only a portion of saffron, recalling the verse in Psalms, “The foolish and the boorish shall together perish; and they leave their wealth to others.”
Many people spend their lives amassing fortunes that they will never be able to spend during their lifetimes. They have more than enough and yet they continue to work to score another deal. And another deal. And an even bigger deal.
For what? So that they can pass it on to their children? Surely they want their children to work just as hard as they did, don’t they? I highly doubt they want them sitting around doing nothing all day!
We’re not talking about having enough money to pass on to your spouse and minor children so they can survive if you were to pass away early, G-d forbid; Reish Lakish’s message is directed at the people who work with a view to bequeathing a small fortune to their adult children, for no apparent reason, other than their egos. They won’t even be around to receive thanks!
Reish Lakish’s attitude was that you’re wasting your time leaving your kids a penny. Let them work for it themselves. Once you have enough money to live, you should be spending those precious remaining moments you have on earth doing mitzvos and learning Torah.
That’s how the saintly Chofetz Chaim would explain this Gemara. Reish Lakish, he expounded, didn’t live day by day because he was a poor planner. On the contrary, his life was calculated to the minutest detail! He simply understood what his purpose was in this world and realized that any surplus funds meant that he wasn’t using his time most effectively.
As Pirkei Avos teaches, “One moment of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is greater than all the life in the World to Come.” Why? Because once you go to Heaven, it’s game over. You’ve accomplished all you could accomplish; after that you end up on whatever heavenly level you’ve achieved. Life on this Earth is precious; you don’t want to waste even a moment engaged in unproductive activity. And simply earning money that you’re going to leave to your heirs is unproductive.
That doesn’t mean that if someone leaves you or your institution money in their will you shouldn’t accept it. Of course you should! The Maharal points out that one’s assets can even achieve an elevation for your soul after you’re dead, if they are used for charitable purposes. But who’s to say that your heirs will use all the money for such purposes? They may fritter away your wealth on trivialities, G-d forbid! And then all your hard work, time and effort will really be down the drain.
Once you have enough to live, you should be devoting your life to Torah study and mitzvah performance. There is no end to the depth and breadth of Torah you could and should be engaging in. There are no shortage of hospitals and old-age homes you could be visiting. Or institutions you could be volunteering for.
If you are going to leave anything significant, make sure your bequest is being managed properly to maximize the utility and reward for your soul in the next world. The better your charitable dollars are being managed, the more positive the effect upon your soul. But certainly, always remember that the greatest utility is the accomplishment you make with your own personal actions while you are alive.
The Torah’s laws of inheritance apply if you happened to have assets left over after your lifetime. But it is no mitzvah to leave money to your children. The more you bequeath, the less effective your time on this Earth has been relative to your potential. May you maximize every moment of your short sojourn on planet Earth!