What are we willing to sacrifice? For what are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to change to put our values into action? When are we willing to walk our talk? The rabbis created a religion that totally integrated values and living one’s life. There was and is no distinction between laws about communicating with Gd and proper hygiene. They are all covered under the category of mitzvot/commandments. There are also no differences between laws about how we earn our wages, invest and spend our money, and lighting Shabbat candles. They are all laws created to teach us how to live a meaningful and honest life; not because it is easier or because it promises success, but because it is filled with the hope and belief that life can be imbued with meaning and purpose; a sacred endeavor. If we acted differently, would that transform who we are and how we experience our world and life?
There is nothing more foundational in our society than how we exchange goods. Whether we are working with a bartering system as they did in the 1800s or with a money system as we do today does not matter. How we define property, what we own, what we exchange, what we value, what we save, what we donate, what we buy all determine who we are. And yet one of the hardest things for us to discuss as a community is money. As Laura Bouyea writes in the book, Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving Money for Social Change, “the subject of money is more taboo than sex….laden with embarrassment, guilt, secret pleasure, fear of other people’s envy.” We are more likely to know our friends’ favorite movie, food, or game than how much they make, whom they financially support, or what charities they give money too.
And yet if you look around the world – the war between Israel and Palestine, the conflict in Syria, sex trafficking around the world, the war in the Ukraine and Russia and here in the United States- access to good health care, quality education, livable wages or safe neighborhoods,--all are affected by how we understand class and class politics. Rabbi Ishmael said in Bava Batra 175 b, “One who wishes to acquire wisdom should study the way that money works, for there is no greater area of Torah study than this. It is like an ever-flowing stream.” This is as true today as it was 1500 years ago. Or as Rabbi Shawn Zevit wrote, “In this way, money is an expression of values and a commitment to Gdly action in the world. Budgets and spending priorities become a reflection of our priorities, which in turn reflect the values articulated by a communal mission statement supported by the entire community. We have to learn to recognize financial and other resources as spiritual components of the conversation on how we want to live our lives in holy ways.”
This last spring, CJC’s board decided to embark on an exciting, risky, thought-provoking, thoughtful and challenging two year exploration into how we, as a community, raise the necessary funds to do the sacred work we do. True to CJC’s commitment to living our Jewish values in all aspects of our communal life, the board approved the committee’s decision to begin this exploration with a class written by the Reconstructionist movement entitled “The Torah of Money.” We will spend this fall learning from the wisdom of the rabbis over the last 3000 years, applying these teachings to our own lives and exploring the many new aspects of money and class that exist today. All of which builds an ethical Jewish foundation for congregants of CJC to determine how they will collect dues and raise funds to cover the cost of doing CJC’s sacred work. I encourage all of you to take this class and enter into this communal decision-making process!
For truly what transforms our life is how we put our hopes, wishes and dreams into action. As it says in Avot de Rabbi Natan chapter 41, “May blessings come upon the one who provides relief. Better is the one who makes loans. But the one who provides a share for the poor and holds a stake in their success transcends them both.” Who knows? Maybe 200 years from now, people will be going on vacation to our home town, sharing how this community dared to take a risk, sacrificed everything they understood and knew to be true to create an equable society, one based on the values they lived their life by, one in which haves and have-nots became sharing partners.