You + You = YOU

Money, money, money…” sang Abba in 1976.  What is it?  It is funny how challenging it is to define.    Is it those metallic discs clinking in your pocket? How about those strips of colored paper in your wallet?  How about when you write a check? Is that money?  What if you write on a napkin, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money? How about if we shake hands and I simply say, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money?  Or is money the magnetic orientation of iron oxide molecules on that brown strip back of your credit card?  Is it a stream of ones and zeroes on the hard drive of your financial institution’s computer?  What is money?

Whether you consult economists or financiers, business school deans or directors of the International Monetary Fund, you’ll always get much the same answer.  It will be something like this: money is a government authorized circulating medium of exchange that allows us to count and store value. 

While that definition is basically true, it hardly tells the entire story.  For a far more useful depiction, we should turn to the 10th chapter of William James’ The Principles of Psychology published in 1890. While William James, who in my opinion had a much more correct understanding of the human soul than Sigmund Freud, is not trying to define money, he is helping us understand the breadth of its impact upon our lives.

“In its widest possible sense, however, a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his,
not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house,
his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works,
his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.   All these things give him
the same emotions.  If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant;
if they dwindle and die away, he feels cast down, not necessarily in the same degree
for each thing, but in much the same way for all.”

Among other things, William James is helping us grasp that our ancestors do matter.  If your parents stayed married and worked hard to give you a great launch into life, then you won what I call the ovarian lottery.  If, on the other hand, your mother was never married and spent much time inebriated, you had a far tougher road to a successful life. 

If you have wonderful children and a great wife, supportive friends and a sterling reputation, you are far better off than those who don’t enjoy these assets.

Yes, our ancestors’ actions powerfully shape our lives for better or worse.  Just imagine had Sonny Capone, Al’s only son, tried to build a career in banking.  Even Al’s great-niece, Deirdre Capone, recalls having been fired from her first job as soon as her employer discovered her identity. 

Similarly, our actions powerfully shape our own lives as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren.  And if our lives and potentially those of our children are not what we’d like them to be, we have the ability to change those actions.  We are not animals fated to be tomorrow just what we are today. We are humans capable of making tomorrow far better than today.  Today we can act differently from yesterday in order to make tomorrow what we really want it to be.  We are capable of transforming our lives so that we become new people.

Let’s learn a little about transforming our lives.

There are only three people in the Torah – the Five Books of Moses – whom God summons by repeating their names. 

…Abraham Abraham… (Genesis 22:11)

…Jacob Jacob… (Genesis 46:2)

…Moses Moses… (Exodus 3:4)

The repetition of the name is to emphasize that each of these men underwent especially dramatic transformations in their lives.  In order to highlight how transformation can make you a new person, God summonsed them by repeating their names.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that there was one Abraham before he discovered God and another afterwards. Similarly, Jacob was one Jacob before he became Father of Israel and another afterwards.  Likewise, there was one Moses before he undertook his mission at the Burning Bush and another for the remainder of his life.

However, the first two instances are different from the third.  There is a pause or separation between Abraham and Abraham and between Jacob and Jacob but not between Moses and Moses. Any authoritative Hebrew text will show a vertical line called a psik, one of the cantillation signs, which constitutes a separation, between the two names.  This gives you the general idea:

…Abraham | Abraham…

…Jacob | Jacob…

However in the Hebrew text in Exodus 3:4  there is no separation or psik between Moses and Moses.  This offers a beautiful hint that early Moses and later Moses were more alike than early Abraham and later Abraham or early Jacob and the later version.

Indeed, this turns out to be correct.  God changes Abraham’s life by talking to him at the start of Genesis 12.  But the text divulges very little earlier information about Abraham, information that might reveal why God spoke to him in Genesis 12:1.  There is no indication in the Scriptural text as to why God spoke to Abraham.

When the angel informs Jacob of his new destiny as the Father of Israel (Genesis 32:29), we have followed his life for quite a while, but we have scant information about what exactly made Jacob worthy of this incredible distinction. 

However, when God transformed Moses’ life at the burning bush by giving him a mission, we already have a sense of why Moses was selected.  He had already exhibited leadership, a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of his brethren, the enslaved Hebrews (Exodus 2:11-13).  Thus, we are not surprised when God appeared to Moses 14 verses later.

Sometimes God selects us for transformative moments that change our lives, as He did with Abraham and Jacob.  Sometimes this happens because of our parents or our grandparents.  But we can increase the chances of that happening by taking brave and righteous steps as did Moses. And, as William James noted, changing our financial destiny often goes hand in hand with changing other parts of our life, both spurring us to and affecting one’s very Self.

23 thoughts on “You + You = YOU”

  1. Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,

    Love that you quoted William James! I also agree that the “Father of Psychology” had a better understanding than Sigmund Freud. I was pleased to recently learn that he was also a theologian.

    Best wishes,

  2. Vallerie Fletcher

    Dear Rabbi and Susan,
    Once again, a thought provoking “thought tool” and I am always better for reading what you write or for listening for your words. I am no expert, but it is my understanding that gold too, essentially has some level of “credit” because essentially it can not do anything to keep us sustained (such as food, shelter, clean water can) but can only be trusted to be a standard to purchase those items, much like salt was (thus the word, “salary” based on the word “salt”) considered to be precious at one time and was the currency of Rome at one time. I enjoyed your commentary before regarding the metals of gold and of copper. I would love to have your insight on this gold standard vs. paper currency topic. Gratefully yours, Vallerie

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Vallerie–
      Yes, indeed, while the dollar was tied to gold (Fully until 1933 and partially till 1971) the government was kept honest. It could not just print dollars. Nowadays, the reason that gas which cost about $0.35 a gallon in 1970 and now costs nearly ten times as much, is not that there is far less oil or gasoline around, but because the government has eroded the value of a dollar by printing so many of them. They do this because it is a convenient way to spend other people’s money without them easily recognizing that you are doing so. It is incredibly dishonest to print more dollars than the economy’s productivity warrants. With no gold standard, there is nothing preventing this money grab without officially raising taxes.
      It is interesting that since time immemorial, gold has enjoyed a special role in human economic affairs and it is hard to find another reason whey gold over platinum say, or for that matter salt, other than that in mankind’s most influential book–the Bible–it is referred to in monetary terms repeatedly.

      1. Vallerie Fletcher

        This is AMAZING! It is because gold is mentioned in the Bible that it is considered to be precious! It is true that we could consider just about anything to be a suitable replacement to “the gold standard” if it were not for the Bible. It is clear to me that gold is certainly created to be preciously regarded. I do know that in the late 1800’s in American History, there was a HUGE political issue! If one were alive at that time, one would surely have a certain answer to the dilemma at hand by the treasury: to have the “gold standard, exclusively” or to have “both, the silver AND the gold standard”. I understand that it was a rather divisive issue, however, I doubt that people were as ego-concentric as they are now – to the point to where they are not only polarized in view, but blinded by an evil, Secular-Humanistic agenda on the left. Thank you, Rabbi Daniel Lapin for your reply.

  3. Thank you Rabbi Daniel Lapin for this wonderful teaching about the deep meaning of money with reflection to God and our life. It is a real good teaching that help us to open up our minds and add more knowledge about money. Actually, most of us we used to take for granted a simple meaning of money. For me it was the first time to know you through reading one of your books called Business Secrets from the Bible. It is a wonderful book for me and for teaching my kids. Thank you and God bless you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Kastory–
      We are truly happy to know that our book Business Secrets from the Bible has been a helpful educational resource. The two most important things to teach children, after you’ve taught about God, are male female relationships and money.

  4. Kerri Ellen Wilder

    Dear Rabbi Lapin & Susan,

    Everything you write is brilliant–and very useful to application in my life, no less so this article. Nevertheless, I must humbly offer a few differing ideas. J.P. Morgan, when questioned in Congressional hearings (circa 1912) was asked, “What is money?” He replied, “Gold is money, nothing else. Everything else is credit.” Those words have been true for over 5,000 years, and they remain true today. I think the Hebrew Scriptures confirm this, do they not?

    Everything else in a person’s life is wealth (credit) or debt (a counterparty risk). Gold carries no counterparty risk; it is the monetary unit of account of humanity. Witness the lengths governments will go to so as to control it and confiscate it from those who yearn for liberty!

    Think of this way. A fiat currency dollar (or any other brand, e.g., yen, pound, ruble) is merely a promise to pay. But pay what? Other pieces of paper! They are irredeemable in gold. The only reason anyone accepts them is because of the ongoing con (confidence game). Paper money not redeemable in gold is NOT a store of value. With each newly printed or digitized dollar brought into existence by government the holders of dollars are gradually impoverished. Since 1913 the U. S. dollar has lost 97% to 99% of its value. The paper dollars we use every day are more properly known as fiduciary media. They circulate as if they were money and we exchange them for goods and services, but the population is largely ignorant/oblivious to the deception that is actually going on.

    An exceptional work, “A Measure of Freedom, 3rd edition,” by Anthony Hargis, 84 pages in length, provides in-depth moral clarity concerning the things of which I write. I highly commend this author.

    Thank you again for all you and Susan do.

    Kerri Ellen

  5. Well since we are on the subject of money, what ancient jewish wisdom is to be said about winning a state lottery? Most church folks would say Proverbs 10: 2 Ill-gotten gains do not profit. Yet some would say since state lotteries support supplemental funding to schools and such, it would not be considered ill-gotten gain.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Lisa–
      Lotteries are just plain bad–period. The entire ethos of something for nothing is corrosive. That’s why English makes a distinction between earning and winning. When you earn money, you do feel happy. When you win money, there is a brief euphoria but eventually most lottery winners seem to end up worse than they were before. The idea that we should wink at state lotteries because they “help the children” or “support education” or “provide homes for stray kittens” is simply wrong. We can’t approve bad actions because they are done with good intentions. We would not support any lotteries especially when government gets involved and turns them into taxation on stupid people. No good comes from gambling of any kind. What is so bad about lotteries in particular and gambling in general is a few win and many lose. Not at all how it works when you work and earn money. There, everybody wins. You are happy to exchange your work for money and your employer who wasn’t forced into hiring you is happy to exchange his money for your work. So to answer your question precisely, while winning a state lottery is certainly better than losing at it, buying lottery tickets is a foolish action.

      1. Well, some people clearly do win the lottery, but I much appreciate your guidance ‘something for nothing is corrosive,’ for acquaintances have egged me on: ‘If you don’t play, you won’t win!’ Yet I always declined lottery tickets on principle, having seen the ‘programmed poor’ purchasing 10-20 lottery tickets on payday. And somehow they remain perpetually poor. In a state where we once lived the lottery slogan was something like ‘All it takes is a dollar and a dream.’ My own translation: ‘All we need is a dollar and a fool.’ You have a stronger chance of being struck by lightning.

  6. Scott Struckel

    Thank you for this insight concerning “money” and the calling of the names. As mentioned earlier Abraham’s name was changed, Jacob’s name was changed, but Moses’ name stayed the same.

    Samuel was also called twice. His name did not change. As you stated before, G-d might have been changing him from a his position to the leading position especially due to Eli’s evil sons not taking on the leadership role.

    1. Scott, you are absolutely correct that Samuel’s name was called twice, which is why the Thought Tool stipulated, “in the Five Books of Moses.” It is always important to look at similar language in the books of the prophets but there is a distinction. Good for you for your familiarity with Scripture.

  7. Thank you for the good teachings, Rabbi. I have always liked Joseph Campbell’s quote ‘Money is congealed energy and releasing it releases life’s possibilities.’ This is an excellent discussion of how money (or perhaps self-worth) can increase the value of those around us.
    Your two-sentence explanation of why a child who is from a successful marriage is much more likely to be successful than one from a broken (or non-existent) relationship should be read, studied, and listened to by parents and their children.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Mike–
      Appreciate your thoughts particularly the Campbell quote.

  8. Amazing! But now you have me wondering why it was not:

    Abram | Abraham

    for it is clear from Scripture that Abram’s name was changed by God Himself in what might be regarded as Abram’s first prophetic transformation (?). Still you make it clear that the cantillation sign psik suggests profound personal transformation. I am reminded of the Hebrew letter Yud י, the tiny ‘cosmic messenger’ that can represent profound change in one’s life, as catalyzed by a small daily event.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks James,
      or Jacob|Israel, right. The answer to your question is that the double calling was not at the moment of transformation for Abraham and Jacob but much later. For Moses, it was at the moment of transformation at the burning bush though of course for Moses, there was no name change. You’re right on the “Yud”. Its presence or absence in a word conveys volumes.

  9. This is a fantastic definition. Allow me to add a thought on this matter I had years ago, which is this: money is essentially faith. Whether it’s faith in the government backing the currency or the financial institution brokering the transaction, or some other faith, it is always faith that what we call “money” represents value and can be exchanged for it. Some may jeer at my proposed equilibrium between a spiritual matter and worldly riches, but I maintain this contention.

    1. Alex this is huge! What other insight can you recommend towards your stance. I love it and I’d like to delve further into it. Any good books you recommend?


      1. Fred, since you asked, there is an entire chapter in our book Buried Treasure on this topic. To give you a starting point, in Hebrew the word for businessman is the same as the word for faith. And, Thou Shall Prosper, expands on this topic in a much longer explanation of what money is.

    2. Nwasike Christian

      You have some truth in your definition of money as faith. After all, faith is the evidence of things not seen; value. I guess that’s why the phrase, “In God we Trust” is written on the US Dollar. Reminding the people that that “colored paper” is just a representation of something that God has provided for us.

    3. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Right, Alex,
      That is why money always goes together with faith. Atheist regimes seldom have functioning economies since the atheistic stance of the regime undermines what I call the “faith muscle”. From the outset, it takes faith for me to accept pieces of colored paper from my employer rather than milk, and bread, and cheese. I have faith that when I need those commodities and others, there will be people willing to supply them to me in exchange for those very same pieces of paper I accepted on faith yesterday.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Akce,
      We also find these Biblical ideas and their implications to be very inspiring.

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