“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.