Can success be too much of a good thing?

I truly believe that God wants all of us to succeed in what we do in life. But people I know (some family and friends) that succeeded in their professions seem to get more greedy. All they really talk about is how much money they made.

Deep down I feel I don’t know these people anymore. Can success be too much of good thing?


Dear Greg,

It can be extremely upsetting to grow apart from people with whom we used to feel close. We do hope you can find a way to retain these relationships.

Before we move on to the essence of your question, we want to raise a thought that may be completely off the wall or might possibly just be worth considering.

1. Is there any chance that the envy bug has affected you so that you are being hyper-sensitive and a bit self-righteous?

In different times and places society becomes prejudiced against the poor; at other times the prejudice targets the wealthy. Today, resentment, jealousy and disdain against those who have achieved some financial success is rampant. Frankly, it is hard not to be affected by the surrounding culture. Both halves of the equation in Leviticus 19:15 are meant to apply: “Do not make an unfair judgment: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.”

Now that we have asked you to peer carefully into your heart, let’s move on to the issue of balance.

We often stress the timeless truth that we human beings are neither angels nor apes.  We are physical beings with a yearning for God.  As such, we are finely tuned to blend the spiritual and physical. So, for example, abandoning human interaction and focusing only on prolonged, isolated meditation and prayer is just as much of a problem as is neglecting our relationship with God and being obsessed with our gym routine or social media.

Deuteronomy 31:15 speaks of the children of Israel ‘becoming fat’ and ‘kicking’ at God. It is describing the natural temptations and risks that arise when things are going well in our individual and/or national lives. Rather than being filled with gratitude and appreciation, after an amazingly short time, we ‘kick’ at the source of our blessings. This is true in our relationship to the ultimate Source, God, but it can also be true for the foundations of our country or our family.

It is easier to be aware of the struggles involved while we are going through tough times. We sometimes ignore the struggles involved when blessing pour down upon us. Hopefully, your family and friends will adjust to their new financial realities and remind themselves of the other important areas in their lives. And, we hope as well, that you are able to retain a loving heart to those who are doing well financially as well as to those who aren’t.

Use your blessings wisely,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin



13 thoughts on “Can success be too much of a good thing?”

  1. To Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin, Thank you, for replying to my question. To answer your question about envy or self-righteous. Envy-no. Self-righteous-possibly. I do not envy them because of their wealth or success but I do have an uncle who has always tried to convert me in the belief of evolution. This has always been a constant battle. One of which, I have told him many times I don’t believe in. And will not believe. I am well aware that I am the only one (on my father’s side of the family) that believes in God. But it does bother me when my uncle’s ego gets the best of him and throws out how rich he is with no God because he did it all himself. I am neither poor or rich financially but to be honest. Where’s the line between Rich/Middle class/Poor? Definitely, I am working class blue collar worker but successful ( So I guess I am in the middle.) and I thank God for his blessings and for my wife. I understand your comments about having a more loving heart and I need to really focus more on that part of my life.

    1. Greg, we always appreciate hearing back from the people whose letters we publicly answer. Your description of your uncle using his financial success as proof that God doesn’t exist throws a different light on your question. He is deliberately using his wealth to buttress an emotional position and he wants to bring it up to show you that you are wrong.
      We do think that it will confound him if you stay loving and respectful and don’t take his bait. Not easy, but a good strategy.
      And yes, you sound quite successful to us.

  2. I recall a young man talked out of striving for better ,and this because his friends feared being out-distanced by him in some areas. The better answer of course is to get all to build on skill, and use their area of likes or strengths. Like, “Is the hand not apart of a body, because it is not an eye?” So, No amputees.
    The problem of group think seen felling too many.

  3. Thank you again Rabbi.

    The fight to be balanced and remain so is just as difficult as the fight against evil, even more so.

    There is no way to go around it. Each being on this earth has to deal with being balance one way or another. I give thanks to God in understanding that and helping us all.

    1. Lisa, why would we think that being balanced in any area of life is easier than balancing on a tight rope? Maybe that is the moral lesson of acrobatics?

  4. And I learned that “fat” has a great meaning: happy, contented! That’s definitely not how we understand that word today, at least here in the USA!

    1. Inez, we wouldn’t exactly translate fat as happy and contented. Shemen, is the word for fat and/or oil. It does reference monetary wealth as well. It’s up to us to add the happiness and contentment whether we are financially well off or not.

  5. Alessandro Mecle

    Dear Rabbi and Mrs Lapin, it is amazing how we can look at something from a myriad of starting points. I have been noticed a pattern in yours thoughts: clever capacity to siege a issue within the right frame, bulding a large range of meanings.
    Balance is important, of course. But when you are working and “fighting”, sharing ideias about money, investments and so on is important. When I meet people who are doing well I see it as a great opportunity to learn about how they are taking care of their money. In doing so, always surprises me how people are very open in share their ideas and abilities.
    Once again, thank you!

    1. Alessandro, when we wondered whether there was a bit of sour grapes in the question, we also asked ourselves if some of the focus on discussing money might be intended as advice or guidance, though we left that out of our answer. Thanks for bringing it up.

  6. Rabbi Lapin,
    Thank you for your continual insight .
    Deuteronomy 8 warns us ‘Beware, lest when your houses, land, silver, gold and all you have increases that you forget the Lord your God.’
    It takes a conscious effort to be grateful and not get ‘spiritual amnesia’ and forget who gave us the blessings.
    Anything we exalt above God becomes idol worship . ( money seems to be the easiest thing)
    I find one of the best things to keep me grounded , focused on the Lord and not the ‘stuff’ is to continually read God’s word. Your books, CDs and teachings have helped me to stay focused on the purpose of wealth. The true purpose of prosperity is not to hoard it all on ourselves but to be a vessel where God’s blessings can flow through us.
    It’s easy for the Lord to bless us and get money to us. The question is , can he get money through us ? Only we can determine this . It takes great maturity and responsibility to keep your priorities right and not become obsessed with self or money . It’s called balance and stewardship.
    Thank you for all of your teachings.
    You continually challenge me .

    1. Jeff, I know my husband will appreciate your words about his books and CDs. I sort of agree that money is an easy thing to distract us from the Lord, but I think another common seducer is political ideologies. We humans very quickly become convinced that we can run the world better than God and fall for all sorts of false ideas in an attempt to do so.

      1. Amen ! It is easy for any area of life to pull us away from God.
        When it comes to politics I think its a shame more people can’t just agree to disagree and have a civil conversation.

        1. Jeff, I don’t like the lack of civility, but at the same time the growing strength of all sorts of regulation means that you can’t ‘agree to disagree’ because people are being forced into behaving in certain ways.

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