In this week’s Torah reading, Avraham sends Eliezer back to his family in Haran, to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer prayed, describing the person he was looking for very simply: when I ask her to bring down her pitcher for me to drink, she will respond that she will also give water to the camels. That was the only sign he asked for.
In that simple sign, he would know that she was a person who sought out opportunities to do kindness for others. That was indeed her focus, making Rivka the right partner for Yitzchak, who inherited both his father’s wealth and his concern for others.
Eliezer gave Rivka gifts as soon as he knew she was the right woman. Rashi explains, from the Medrash, that each gift was filled hinted to the Jewish family she would create. He gave her a golden ring wearing a half shekel, hinting to the half shekel the Jews would contribute annually to the Temple, and two bracelets that weighed ten shekels, hinting to the two tablets and the Ten Commandments that would be written upon them. For Abraham and his family, money was a vehicle for good deeds; even gifts for his daughter-in-law had to be infused with much deeper meaning.
But Rashi asks: why did Lavan, Rivka’s brother, come running out? He answers, because Lavan saw the ring and bracelets, and said “this man is wealthy.” To him, money wasn’t the means, it was the end goal. And so he ran to meet Eliezer, simply because he wanted more money.
A few days ago, the BBC World Service wrote to us, having found an article on our website by one of our earliest fans and supporters, Eric (Sholom) Simon, on the Jewish value of money. They were discussing clergy having an ostentatious or modest lifestyle, in the wake of the Pope’s suspension of the so-called “Bishop of Bling,” who apparently spent an incredible sum of money renovating his private residence. Asked to present a Jewish viewpoint, I explained that to us, all money is a gift from G-d, which we’re supposed to steward and use appropriately — and all the more so when it comes to communal funds given to charity.
Please listen if you are interested; the second segment comes in at roughly 27:30, and they introduce me a minute later.
Because of the nature of the discussion, when asked on the spot for an appropriate biblical verse, I quoted the prophet Micha who said “what does G-d ask from you? only that you do justice, and love of kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d.” [6:8] But there is an even more fundamental quote, from the Shema itself, Commanding us to love G-d “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.” May we constantly keep the true purpose of money foremost in our minds!