Does the desire for prosperity conflict with religious values?
Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.
The simple answer to this is linked to, but not the same as, another question, i.e., whether prosperity itself, rather than the desire for prosperity, conflicts with religious values. In other words, can one be rich and religious? The simple answer to that question is — yes.
Wealth in and of itself is not an impediment to religiosity.
What is an impediment is whether one is a miser with what one has. Being a miser is totally in conflict with religious values. We are obliged to be kind, to see the material largesse with which we have been (hopefully) blessed, as a gift from God. And God has “asked” of us that we share. This means that miserliness is off limits.
Back to your question. You did not ask whether prosperity conflicts with religious values. You asked whether the desire for prosperity conflicts with religious values. That is a different question.
This is a question that has as its subtext the question of whether not being satisfied with one’s lot and wanting more, conflicts with religious values.. Should we be happy with what we have, and not seek more?
That is a complicated question.
One could make the case that having enough to manage but wanting more may smack of ingratitude. On the other hand, why should we not be able to improve on the status quo without feeling that it is religiously wrong to do so?
Another factor in the question is that prosperity is a moving target. Today’s prosperity is tomorrow’s “just managing.” The desire for prosperity can easily evolve into an unending desire for more, with the attendant consequence that one will never be satisfied, and therefore never happy.
If the desire for prosperity causes unhappiness, then it is definitely in conflict with the Judaic value of being happy and grateful as critical to appreciating God and the world we live in.
After all these observations, a possible approach is that it is OK to desire future prosperity, as long as it is coupled with a genuine appreciation of present manageable circumstance; to at once be happy and seeking.
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