While most people dream of riches, not poverty, there is also an understanding that excessive love of money can lead to disastrous results. Giving up those dreams for a life of poverty, however, is not necessarily such a noble sacrifice, as it has its own corresponding challenges: the Talmud says that poverty causes us to violate our own and our Creator’s will. As King Shlomoh expresses the idea succinctly:
Distance falsity and deceitful words from me, give me neither poverty nor wealth; allot me my daily bread: lest I become sated and deny and say “Who is Hashem?” or lest I become poor and steal and take hold of the name of my God.Mishlei 30:8-9
Not only is the rich person more wont to rebel against God, but so is the poor person liable to be forced by necessity into theft and false oath. As the Ramchal depicts the situation: with poverty on one side and wealth on the other, serenity on one side and suffering on the other, the battle rages against a person to the fore and to the rear.
For this reason it is all the more necessary to have guidance in charting one’s financial life rather than forging ahead blindly without taking heed of consequences.
Both rich and poor Jews have been held up as standards for their respective classes, showing that both paths can be navigated successfully.
Hillel used half of his meager wages to gain admission to the house of study and the other half to support his family. When he failed to find work one day and was denied entry to the beit midrash by its guard, he climbed the roof to hear the sages Shemayah and Avtalyon expound on the Torah. It was a wintry day in the month of Tevet (December-January) and he was buried under three amot of snow when his teachers rescued him, after noticing a shadowy figure clouding their skylight. Our Sages teach that his example of self-sacrifice would condemn any Jew who uses poverty as an excuse for not having studied Torah.
In like manner, the Sages also adduce the example of Rabbi Elazar ben Charsom, who is said to have inherited a thousand towns and a thousand ships, but spent all his days with minimal provisions learning Torah. Once, his servants found him and forced him to labor, invoking their master’s name – his own. He was so occupied with learning Torah that his servants had never seen him. His devotion to Torah condemns anyone who uses his wealth as an excuse for not studying.
Although the Jewish people has had its great rich people and poor people, the guidance the Torah offers is towards financial success. But it takes effort. The Talmud was cognizant of the “cycle of poverty,” stating that “poverty pursues the poor person.” It’s easier for the wealthy to maintain their wealth and harder for the poor to get ahead. But wealth can also prove elusive to the wealthy. Changes in fortune are also a cycle, and poverty is sure to come upon every family eventually.
Extricating oneself from poverty requires, essentially, remaking oneself. That means stepping outside of our comfort zones to become somebody we’ve never been. And in the same measure that the poor will want to increase their wealth, the wealthy will want to secure theirs – both firmly on the basis of the Torah’s guidance. The name for this process is called personal growth, and it is possible to posit a relationship between personal growth and portfolio growth, in that both require effort and risk.
More than even the specific merchandise, property or investments we acquire, it is the difficult work of self-denial in the form of siphoning off income into savings that gets us to our goals. For most people, this is not a comfortable process. What’s more, to climb higher, we need to take the risk of falling. The Torah’s guidance on how to grow, and get ahead, financially, requires a journey in personal self-development that is the subject of the remaining chapters of this book.
 Eruvin 41b.
 Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, Mesillat Yesharim, chapter 1 (available in English as The Path of the Just, trans. Shraga Silverstein, Feldheim Publishers, 1990).
 Yoma 35b.
 Bava Kamma 92a.
 Shabbat 151b.