Follow by Email

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Must I choose between wealth and spirituality?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 25


I feel like it’s a trick question.  Every time I reach the part of the High Holy day kedusha that offers choices, I get dumbstruck.  I wonder whether maybe I should check with Batya, first!  Some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but I see many of you silently nodding.

The perplexing section of the service appears in many (primarily Nusach Sefard) machzorim.  While the chazzan is saying the word “ayai,” the congregation is offered the choice to pray for either Divine inspiration, or parnassah (material prosperity), or holy children.

Great, what an awesome opportunity!  But, honestly, which one of these three important blessings should you choose?  Everybody knows that holy children is the right answer, right?  But it’s so tempting to choose one of the other options. . . Is this a test or something?!

Rabbi Yitzchak taught: One who wishes to be wise should face south during his prayers.  And if one seeks wealth, he should face north.  The symbolism is the fact that the Holy Table was at the northern part of the Tabernacle and the Menorah was in the southern part.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught: One should always face south, for with wisdom he will gain wealth, as the verse states, “For long days is in the Torah’s right hand; in its left are wealth and honor.”
But did not Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teach the following?  One must pray towards the Shechina (Divine Presence), in the direction of Jerusalem!
The Gemara answers: One should (face Jerusalem, but) turn a little southward.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi provides the solution to the quandary.  When you pray for Divine direction, everything else falls into place.  In elucidating the path to prayer, he explains that you don’t need to choose between wisdom and wealth.  For if you have wisdom, you will figure out how to create and sustain wealth!

His proof text is interesting.  “For long days is in the Torah’s right hand; in its left are wealth and honor.” Not only does Divine direction provide wealth, but it also brings honor.  What is honor?  In Pirkei Avos (6:8), Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai teaches that the ultimate honor of the wise is seeing grandchildren who follow in their footsteps.  In other words, wisdom leads to wealth and honor, and so in the High Holy day prayers, the ‘right’ choice is Divine inspiration, because that really contains all three blessings!

What is Divine inspiration?  It’s the ability to tap in to the spiritual vibe all around.  The Rambam explains the concept of prophecy as the ability to tune in to the Divine message that is everywhere.  Most people only see the external shadow of this world, but really there is a whole other program operating beyond the façade of this physical world.  With the proper spiritual antennae, you can hear the waves of the Divine.  Living in the twenty-first century, it’s simple for us to grasp – all you need is a handheld device and suddenly you have access to all the wisdom in the world!  Likewise, with the right spiritual transmitter, you have access to everything the angels see! 

Imagine you had all the secrets of the universe at your disposal!  With the secrets of wealth acquisition and accumulation, you could be rich beyond your wildest dreams!  With the secrets of relationship perfection and character building, you could have the finest children on Earth!  And so all you really need is the blessing of Divine inspiration, and everything else falls into place!

How do you acquire Divine inspiration?  One way is to pray to Heaven for the blessing.  That’s the meaning of the machzor’s option and that’s the segulah (omen) offered by Rabbi Yitzchak. 

But beyond those ‘short-cuts,’ true Divine inspiration requires effort.  Pirkei Avot teaches, “Nullify your will before His will and He will nullify the will of others before your will.”  When you become one with the Divine, everything else falls into place.  It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of asking yourself in every situation, ‘Am I doing the most efficient thing Heaven would want of me right now?’  But the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature and at that point, all the blessings start pouring into your life, effortlessly!


You can have all the blessings of the universe.  All it takes is tuning in to the Divine energy all around you.  May you become a vehicle for G-dliness and tap into the complete bounty of Heaven!