How, really, can one deal with the tremendous abundance of these modern times and not be caught up with the race after luxuries? We presented this question to HaRav Arye Leib Shapira, Menahel Ruchani of Yeshiva Ketana of Ponovezh.
He leads us step by step in understanding the root of the problem of dissatisfaction and the desire for more and more.
The Me'iri in his essay on Teshuva deals with the argument one hears from people who repent and upgrade their deeds each year in Elul but who backslide after Yom Kippur.
"Abandoning the sin alone is not enough. Anyone who seeks to repent must examine his thoughts and outlook so as to uproot the faulty ones which hold a person in their grasp and cause him to persevere in his evil ways. Perhaps these are also tainted with anger, antipathy, jealousy, competitiveness, disdain, lust for money, honor and power."
He specifically mentions upon the lust for money as an issue in itself.
HaRav Chaim Vital writes in "Shaarei Kedusha" that desire is the root of impurity since it leads to hatred, envy and eventually to theft and false swearing to the point that one denies Divine Providence that Hashem rules the world in every way.
In Yerushalmi Yoma we find that the cause for the destruction of Bayis Sheini was "...that they loved money and hated one another with a baseless hatred, i.e. sinas chinom." The question is well-known, that they studied Torah, were vigilant in mitzvos and even possessed fine character traits, so how can it be that they stooped to baseless hatred? The answer is: Lust for money! Not that they actually stole but they simply desired money. As the Me'iri says: A person does not regard this as a sin but actually, it is the root of all evil.
Who is Wealthy? One Who is Content
The Maharal explains the mishna in Ovos: "Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot." Possessing great wealth is not an advantage per se but a benefit dependent upon others. But if one is content with his portion, he has wealth on its own.
HaRav Chaim Friedlander expanded on the Maharal's idea and said that it is not only the virtue of being satisfied with a minimum but a virtue of being happy with his lot. He is happy with the portion that Hashem has apportioned to him. Every person is assigned a personal mission in serving Hashem; this is his individual task within the whole of Jewry in fulfilling the whole plan of the world. Hashem provides each person with the means and tools to fulfill his individual obligation in this world through capabilities, personal makeup and also through his possessions.
Some people require wealth and other things, like Rabbenu [R' Yehuda Hanossi] who utilized everything he possessed in his service of Hashem. Thus, when he was about to depart from this world, he raised his ten fingers to Heaven and declared: "Ribono shel Olam, it is revealed and known to You that I toiled in Torah and took no pleasure from this world for even as much as my little finger." He had no personal enjoyment from his wealth but used it completely for his service to Hashem.
Tzaddikim execute their obligation to Hashem in every way they have available: the wealthy through his money and the pauper through his poverty for they are content with their lot, knowing that each one, in his particular manner, strives for perfection. They are happy because they do not feel a lack of anything; their individual situation derives from Hashem and is their way to serve Hashem. Money has no integral value and greater possessions do not enhance a person's worth.