One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of how a great storm wind comes and throws the world into chaos, scattering the King’s ten advisors in the process.
The Master of Prayer is one of these advisors, and he takes it upon himself to go round the world reuniting the King with the other advisors, and rectifying all the countries who are now following ‘foolish’ beliefs about the meaning of life, as a result of the terrible storm they went through.
One group believes that the purpose of life is to eat; another that’s it to procreate; another chooses wisdom; another picks honor etc etc, but the most problematic land of all is the Land of Money.
You see, in all the other lands, there’s at least a moment, a second, when they’re satiated with their particular lust or desire, which gives the Master of Prayer an opportunity to come and talk to them about serving God, and the real meaning of life. But in the land of money, that simply never happens: they think about money ALL THE TIME, and it colors their every thought and every waking moment.
Worse, the people of the Land of Money literally kill themselves for money; and they also turn their richest citizens into ‘stars’ and ‘gods’ (Rebbe Nachman’s language…) who they worship incessantly.
By contrast, people without a lot of money are considered to be sub-human animals, and given no respect, rights or accorded even basic human dignity. As a result, the Master of Prayer is finding it next to impossible to rectify the inhabitants of the Land of Money, and to bring them back to God.
By this point, you may well be squirming a little in your seat, because guess what?
In 2016, nearly all of us are living in the Land of Money!
And here’s how it’s affecting us:
- It’s killing our marriages – because either or both parents are obsessed with parnassa, and never seem to be making enough to pay for all the ‘necessities’ of modern life, even when they both work full-time and bring home a packet. Then, all the blame and mutual recriminations start, which can poison relationships to their core very quickly.
- It’s killing our kids – especially if the mum has a full-on ‘career’ that requires an awful lot of attention and time. The kids take a back seat to the boss, or the business, and they get ‘scheduled’ to death to enable mom to keep to her timetable. If their personal crises happens in a ‘scheduled’ moment – all well and good. When they don’t – it’s a huge problem for everyone, and the kid doesn’t always come first.
- It’s killing our happiness – because people in the Land of Money never have enough, and they’re always worrying that they’ll be demoted to ‘animal’ status if they don’t keep earning a fortune (even when they have millions already in the bank…) To keep your humanity and dignity intact, remember this: money serves us, not the other way around. If I’m scared to spend money, it’s because I’m making that dollar bill more important than my own happiness and wellbeing.
- It’s killing our souls – because when you’re thinking about money 24/7, you simply don’t have time to think about things like praying, or taking a time out to reflect on life, or to appreciate that GOD is giving us our parnassa, and we’re not achieving it by our own efforts.
- It’s killing our bodies – because when people are stressed about money all the time, and working like dogs, and living above their means and borrowing huge amounts, and constantly worrying that they don’t have enough or won’t have enough, that puts so much pressure on the body that sooner or later, a whole bunch of nasty illnesses and diseases start to show up.
I could carry on, but you get the idea.
To sum up the problem, it’s like this:
When people live in the Land of Money, money is the first consideration, and beats out everything else.
Some common examples of this could include:
- “I can’t make Aliyah, because I’m worrying about parnassa”
- “I can’t quit my soul-destroying job, because I’m worrying about how to pay my huge mortgage if I do that”
- “I can’t buy myself a new dress / new saucepan / new pair of shoes /[some other basic necessity], because I’m worrying about my money running out if I do that”
- “I can’t give 10% of my income to charity, because I won’t have enough for myself then”
- “I can’t stop running on the treadmill to make more money, because if I do that the money won’t just appear by itself.”
All of these statements have a ring of truth to them, don’t they? I know they do for me still, and I’ve been trying to leave the Land of Money for years’ already.
But there’s the problem: God is missing from this picture.
And when that happens, we start to build lives for ourselves based on the rules of the Land of Money, which states that our kids need expensive summer camps, and extra-curricular activities, and we need to be wearing labels, and to have everything matching, and that our homes need to be very big and spacious, and that every person over 17 needs their own car, and holidays are a necessity not a luxury, and that gourmet meals in fancy restaurants are what makes us happy, and guests must be offered a selection of expensive whiskeys and liquers to drink, and we must be working on plans to ‘get on’ and upscale our living arrangements, or our 401k plans, or our stockmarket holdings, or our property holdings and and and….
I’m exhausted just from typing that.
Here’s another problem that happens when you live in the Land of Money: You’ll literally sell your soul for cash.
Just ask all the bent politicians in Israel who take bribes for ‘peace’, or who (secretly…) sold Kever David to the Vatican for some big bucks, or who are happy to let Reform partition the Wailing Wall because they waved some dollars in their face.
When you live in the Land of Money, money talks, and God doesn’t. Or at least, not to you. Or at least, not in any way you care to listen to.
So how do we leave the Land of Money?
In the story of the Master of Prayer, it turns out the only way people can leave is via ‘the path to the sword’, i.e. very harsh judgments.
Those judgments could be severe health issues, severe marital problems, severe problems with kids going crazy or going off the derech, severe mental illness issues, or even (perhaps ironically), severe financial issues.
You want to know why so many of us are going through so much difficulty today, in every sense of the word?
This is why.
God is trying to get us out of the Land of Money once and for all, so we can stop obsessing about earning, and instead start yearning to get closer to God and to live a more spiritual life again.
It’s hard work, I know. But you know what’s even harder work? Getting stuck in a life, in a mindset, where money is the only thing that counts, no matter how miserable it makes you, how much it wrecks your peace of mind and relationships, or how much it kills your soul, your humanity, and your spiritual dimension.