I have been raised by my parents and in my school to save money as much as possible. I was told that since life is filled with so much uncertainty and nobody is able to tell us what will be, we better make sure that we have enough money saved for when we get older, and especially when we are very old and no longer able to work.
In my time (I am nearly 90 years old) there was no “life insurance” available, and indeed there was no way to prepare for one’s older days other than to save money when one was young. That is what I did. I lived very, very modestly, did not go to theater or a musical concert and surely not on vacation.
There was little to enjoy in my life, since no extra money was available—it was all saved; initially in a simple box in my bookcase and later in a bank account.
Now that my life is slowly nearing its end, I have a very large balance in my account that I no longer can use due to my current frailties.
The reason I have amassed such a large sum of money is that the terrible days I was warned about never came. Now I am a rich man—but what shall I do with all this money?
Obviously, I have summoned a lawyer who has set up a will to divide this money among my family after my decease, and I am pleased I did so.
But something nags at me. Why did I not use this money when I was young? I could have had a far happier and more pleasant life.
Was I wrong in saving all this money?
Yes. Unfortunately, I believe that this was the wrong thing to do. When bad days arrive, the greatest possession you have is the celebration and remembrance of the good days you had in the past. To deny yourself this is a terrible mistake.
Furthermore, I believe this was incorrect for another reason: You could have been happy even while you were saving all your money.
The reason is as follows:
People who keep on saving and saving so that they are able to enjoy the lives they believe will only come later, make a major mistake. They are blind to the happiness they already have, and of which they are not aware at all.
Such people have a spiritual eye “impediment.” They are “longsighted” while they should be “shortsighted.” They have not learned to access all the happiness that is in the “here and now.” They are waiting for something to come when in fact it is already there. The “waiting” for happiness made it impossible to see the happiness which one has now even when one may not have money.
What they do not realize is that happiness is not a “possession” but an attitude, a mentality one must develop. The most important element to attain for this is to make sure never to be bored.
There are many reasons for boredom. The main reason is the curse of living in a way that perceives life as continuous repetition. A recurrence of what has already been instead of seeing the novelty of every day and every hour.
For the art of living is to exist in a constant state of amazement. Firstly, this means never to take anything for granted but to be surprised by the most “obvious” things in life: The fact that we are alive, are able to think and can think about thinking, and that every matter, however small, ultimately remains unexplained, even by the best of scientists, whether this is the existence of a flower, an insect, or the notion that we are able to see and be in love.
Amazement ensures the realization that what has been seen previously has have never really been “observed” in a new light. This is not an easy art to develop—our memories constitute the obstacle to this perception.
A newborn has no memory and therefore gets excited about almost anything. It lives in constant amazement, which is the foundation of happiness.
There is something further. Happiness is the art of defying the rules of life. Only very young children have this capacity since they have yet to be bound by rules. They are not yet plagued by the need “to fit in,” nor by the conventions of how society or even religion tell the child to live its life. In other words, later in life a web is thrown over the child by society and the child is asked to become just another identical member of that society.
The child needs to escape this for this is not the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to discover the holes in the web and realize that these holes are meant only for you. This is not a call for unruliness or lawlessness, but to be a fully-fledged human being and not simply a copy of other humans beings. To be human means to be different from everybody else.
Unruliness and lawlessness are when one tries to crawl through someone else’s openings in the net which clearly cannot fit appropriately. This is artificial.
But when one finds one’s own opening that nobody else can ever make use of, and one remains authentic, one can live in joy even when times are bad, whether one has saved money or not.
And here is where the issue of religion comes in.
Religion is not meant to have people live in the Garden of Eden, in Heaven, make everything beautiful and bring people to live in a constant state of ultimate happiness. Every religious person knows that such a reality will never happen.
One of the major functions of religion is to guide us in the eventuality that matters do not go well; how one is to live when times are difficult. To be happy is to grow in happiness, not to “be” in happiness.
This is the purpose of real religiosity. To acquire the art of finding one’s own openings in the web of the repetitious living like one lived yesterday. True religiosity is a device against monotonous living.
The danger of religion is when it becomes monotonous itself. When it asks the religious personality to “fit in” and to crawl through the holes in the web that belong to another.
In the instance of Judaism, its greatest problem is that nearly everything became regulated and codified such that the established form became the rules of the game. In this way, Judaism becomes a series of acts performed by rote, as a routine and in conformity. As the prophet, says: “And their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13).
Judaism was often stultified creating a notion of imitation (even of oneself!) with the end result of one’s soul being lynched.
However, authentic Judaism is built on the indignation of the great prophets. To protest the emptiness of the net, when the religious human being is no longer searching for his/her own cracks in the web of life.
The purpose of Halacha is to find these holes and teach the religious personality how to crawl through one’s own holes while holding on to the rest of the halachic web that every day changes its color, its meaning and its music.
Only when Judaism stays new and fresh will it arouse amazement which is the only way to happiness. Whether one saves money or not.
1 Based on Observations by the Late Dutch Author Godfried Bomans, (1913-1971).
Over the years I have received many challenging and highly unusual questions that I would like to share.
At times I will give answers to these questions, while at times I will not offer a final answer, rather leaving my insights as food for thought. As far as I know, part of what I write has not been expressed anywhere.
The answers reflect my personal thoughts on these matters and may not always represent “normative (Orthodox) Judaism”; while some may term my responses heretical, I believe that my responses are deeply Jewish and religious, and are important for everybody to consider. Let us not forget what Andre Suares once said: “In a dead religion there are no more heresies.”