middot generosity besorah frugality as generosity

frugality as generosity

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-camel-eyeNow listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the L-rd Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)

The words of Yaakov against the rich of his day are powerful and condemning. What is critical to understand is that it is not just the fact that the rich have so much, it is that what they have is at the expense of others. They stored up the payment for their workers for themselves instead. They were self-protective while destruction was going on outside of their cushy homes. Modern capitalism might call the former “excessive tax,” and the latter, “survival of the fittest.” Yaakov calls them condemnation and murder of the just.

Yes, even a capitalistic society puts limits on what the wealthy can do to the “lower classes.” I’m not so sure Yaakov wouldn’t draw the line differently than we often do in society. In other words, Bernie Maddoff and the neighbor who pays the immigrant workers less than minimum wage would get the same sentence.

From a Torah perspective, frugality is not only about saving and investing for one’s own benefit (though Yeshua teaches about the value of doing both). Frugality is important so that one can show generosity to others. This generosity is of critical importance:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16)

When we approach the middah of frugality, let us remember that improvement in this trait will do even more than keep us from losing out in the long run. Frugality will enable us to have an overflow with which we can feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

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