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Parshas Shemos - Your Money or Your Life      19 Teves 5783

01/12/2023 10:12:23 AM


What do Benjamin Kubelsky (aka Jack Benny) and I have in common? Perhaps the one thing people who know me well may quip is that we are both ‘economical’, the polite word for being cheap. There is a real difference between wasting something or being frivolous and careless about money and its value. Nevertheless, as necessary as money is in life (and money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness but having money can make life easier), it is almost always replaceable. Unfortunately, we only tend to pay lip service to that idea.

The importance of money was made famous in 1948 when Ronald and Benita Colman, along with “holdup man” Eddie Marr, gave Jack Benny something to think about.  This classic gag exchange took place as follows: Thug: Hey bud! Bud, you got a match? Jack Benny: A match? Yeh, I have one right here. Thug: Don’t make a move. This is a stick-up. JB: What? Thug: You heard me. JB: Mister, put down that gun. Thug: Shut up. Now come on. Your money or your life? Long pause…………Thug: Look, bud, I said, ‘Your money or your life.’ Jack Benny: I’m thinking it over.

The response reinforced the notion that Jack Benny was cheap with his money and considered his money almost more important than his life. The audience roared in laughter upon hearing this phrase from him. It has become one of the most classic lines in standup comedy ever since. For generations people have quoted this and continue to do so today.  But, as the saying goes, there’s a grain of truth in every joke.  Whenever a person is joking, they are, in actuality, disguising thoughts and emotions, either subconsciously or deliberately. There really is a moment where any of us are “thinking it over” - even when it’s “your money or your life”.

A few weeks ago, I smelled an odor in the laundry room and thought it was probably a dead rodent. Then, lo and behold, I found a defrosted meat roast in a Ziplock bag on top of the dryer which is right next to the freezer. Apparently, while I was rearranging the freezer, I neglected to put the frozen bag back into the freezer. I promptly returned it to the freezer, anticipating that the freezer would kill all the bacteria, thereby saving the roast. One Thursday night few weeks after this refreezing event, I took the roast out of the freezer to defrost, only then deciding to smell the meat. That was the moment I faced the question: ’Your money, or your life’…and actually spent a bit of time thinking about it. The meat cost about seventy dollars. “Hmm,” I thought, “Should I take a chance…”  But even I, overcoming my innate frugality, realized that even seventy dollars is not worth food poisoning or worse. As painful as it was, I discarded the meat and took out a fresh piece from the freezer. (I have to grudgingly admit that if I were the only one who would be eating the meat, I might have used it, but I could not serve it to my wife and company. Of course, in that case, if the meat wouldn’t have killed me, my wife would have). It struck me that even I had the thought of using spoiled meat to save a few dollars! This concept manifests itself in many scenarios, sometimes directly with money and other times indirectly.

In this week’s Parshas Shemos the Torah states in Shemos 2:11 "ויהי בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם, וירא איש מצרי מכה איש עברי מאחיו"  “When Moshe was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor. [One day] he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews”. Most commentaries focus on Moshe seeing the hardship of the Jews and or the Egyptian taskmaster smiting a fellow Jew. If one analyzes Moshe’s position in life in conjunction with this critical life-altering decision, we see a choice of immense proportion taking place. Moshe was brought up in the palace and would be the prince of Egypt, enjoying a worry-free life of pleasure, gratification, delight, and amusement. He would never have to worry about money or anything else for that matter. Instead of this guaranteed lifestyle, he stepped out of that world and into a world of uncertainty, a world of the unknown, a world that was both unfamiliar and foreign to all his experiences. Moshe knows he is a Jew, but he had grown up as an Egyptian. Moshe is at the crucial crossroad of “your money” - a life of leisure- or “your life” - a meaningful, challenging proactive life to help his people. Moshe could have walked out and make an about face, returning  to the comfortable life he was living. Instead, Moshe chose to sacrifice his ‘money’ for something far more meaningful. In Moseh’s case, it wasn’t ‘only’ his life and a life of this world; it was a life of destiny for the Jewish people, and, for himself, a life of eternity.

*Rav Shlomo Rabinowitz z”l in his sefer Tiferes Shlomo, elucidates this point. He explains that the Torah describes Moshe’s greatness through the fact that he went out to his brothers. Moshe, even at this time, viewed each and every one of the Jews literally as his blood brothers. Moshe was willing to give up his life of ease and luxury for his people. The word ויצא  - to go out -  is similar to the words in Shir Hashirim 5:6 נפשי יצאה בדברו : my soul departed at His decree. This is reflected in the words we say in the Shabbos morning Amidah ישמח משה במתנת חלקו  - Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion, so much so that he [Moshe] gave his life and soul on behalf of the Jewish people.

In conclusion, everyone makes decisions about how to spend the precious time they have in this world. An observant, religious Jew spends many hours a day following the rituals of what the Torah commands us to do. This entails the study of Torah, daily prayer, observance of the Mitzvos at hand, and then dedicating an overall adherence to what it means to be a Jew.  I have an ongoing philosophical dialogue with someone every so often. We agree and disagree on many issues, but we always analyze the pros and cons in arriving at a conclusion. We recently discussed how there are fewer and fewer meaningful life discussions. Most people just shoot the breeze and converse on very few things of substance and meaning. Many of the conversations are not about life, choosing to focus instead on nonsense and topics that do not make us or the world better. The discussions are like “the money” with regard to the choice of life - typically worthless and valueless. This behooves all of us to ask ourselves pointedly: What are the genuinely important things in life to talk about? We each need to process this, setting aside the comedy and focusing on the profound value of  asking ourselves the question: Our money or our life?


*Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz (1801 – 16 March 1866) was the first Rebbe of the Radomsk Chasidic dynasty and one of the great Chasidic masters of 19th-century Poland. He is known as the Tiferes Shlomo after the title of his sefer, which is considered a classic in Chasidic literature.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784