Something for Nothing

Here is one way to give your employee a raise:  “You’ve been with us for a year now, Enid; that means that you are due for your first raise. Congratulations, your pay is going up 5%.”

There’s another way to do it.  “During the year you’ve been with us, Enid, you’ve really made a difference.  I asked our accountant to calculate how much extra revenue your innovations brought to the company and the answer was very impressive. The way you came up with improvements in operations and how you then implemented those ideas has been incredibly effective.  We’re happy to raise your pay 5%, you really deserve it.”

I think we all know that the second approach is a far better way.  Though child-rearing is not the same as managing employees, some principles are similar.  Sadly, I often see parents violating these rules.  Some parents bribe their children with candy or watching videos in order to try and obtain the desired behavior.  A bribe is quite different from a reward. One precedes performance while the other follows it.

While it is certainly true that money can’t buy happiness, earning money does indeed contribute to one’s happiness.  I was amazed to discover studies proving conclusively that welfare recipients report being far less happy than equally poor people who refuse public assistance.  This data precisely correlates with studies showing that lottery winners, after brief euphoric buying sprees, experience deep unhappiness as their personal achievement loses all meaning.  Getting money doesn’t make us happy. Earning it does.

It gets even worse.  Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that obtaining money we did nothing to earn not only makes us miserable, it also makes us resentful towards others.  If you’re interested in where Scripture compellingly makes this point, I direct your attention to the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy.

Verses 10 and 11 promise that at the end of 40 years in the desert, God will bring the Jews into the Land of Israel.  There they will find ready-made cities to occupy, and houses for them to live in that they didn’t have to build.  Furthermore, the houses will be filled with good things that the Israelites will enjoy but didn’t prepare. They will find already-excavated water cisterns they didn’t have to dig, and they will enjoy vineyards and orchards they didn’t plant.  It all sounds wonderful.  It should fill the Jews with appreciation and love for their God who gave them all this (unearned) bounty.

Yet, we read on…

Beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 
(Deuteronomy 6:12)

Extraordinary!  After being brought out of slavery, after being sustained for 40 years in the desert, and after being brought into their own land filled with all kinds of benefits awaiting them, God expects them to forget Him.

What is worse, God expects them to abandon Him and rebel…

Do not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you
(Deuteronomy 6:14)

Yes, that is right.  Obtaining value (or money) not as a result of serving other human beings but just because your father left you a trust fund or the luck of the lottery favored you, corrodes the soul.  While the wise among us understand that without God’s blessings even strenuous efforts will be for naught, when God, our Father in Heaven, presents wealth or possessions on a silver platter, it likewise presents us with a severe test.

So let’s be wise employers and allow our employees the right to their happiness by letting them know how much they achieve.  Let’s be wise parents and grant our children the happiness they deserve by letting them do their part in being worthy of that which we constantly bestow upon them. Let’s stop praying to win the lottery or plotting to acquire money without giving value and instead thank God for the opportunity to earn our fortunes with honesty and integrity.

2 thoughts on “Something for Nothing”

  1. Rabbi Daniel,

    Thank you for the advice you provide on so many important topics. This one hits close to home for me. Do you have any advice for those who are recipients of unearned and unexpected monetary wealth? Should we at all times strive to maintain our employment regardless of need? How do we handle the severe test that this scenario presents?

    Blessings to you and your family,

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