The Talmud tells of a flute in the Temple made of reeds that survived from the days of Moses:
The king issued a command that it be plated with gold, but it no longer sounded pleasant. They removed the plating and the sound was as pleasant as before.Arakhin 10b
The darkness that befell Egypt during the plagues is called “thick as a coin.” Money can evoke darkness. One can see through a window, but cover the glass with silver, and it creates a mirror in which you see only yourself. These examples from the Jewish tradition teach an ever-relevant truth: Wealth is not only an opportunity but an obstacle. It can help the world or block our vision of one another.
Judaism is a tradition in which, one day of the week, we are not even supposed to touch money. The Yiddish proverb teaches: “Burial shrouds are made without pockets.” Gold stops at the grave. What remains is not how much we made, but what it made of us. If you spend all your time gilding the flute, you will miss the music.
Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.