It’s a good thing that more Americans attend synagogue or church each week than go to the movies. Regular worship helps to keep you healthy, and also wealthy.
The Journal of Chronic Diseases reported that men who attend church frequently have a 40 percent lower rate of fatal heart disease than those who rarely attend worship services.
One explanation is that loneliness kills, whereas being connected to many other people enhances health. But it is not merely being connected to others that is important: it is also the quality and depth of those connections. Praying with others seems to do something profound. After all, praying properly requires us to reveal our vulnerability. And exposing one’s vulnerability allows a meaningful relationship with both God and friends.
Sharing with others the spiritual experience of interaction with God creates a powerful bond with those next to us. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “How many we see in the street, or sit with in church, whom though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with!”
Going shopping with someone simply does not create the same bond. After all, much of the time, those who shop for fun are expressing avarice while synagogue or temple attendees are at least trying to reach for something higher. Whom would you rather befriend?
Unhappy people often call my radio show to tell me that if they had more money they’d have more friends. Television advertising routinely suggests that the way to have a good time with a crowd of laughing, good-looking friends is to buy a specific soft drink.
For me, ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the truth: Wealth seldom produces genuine relationships. Genuine relationships with other people produce wealth. Focus on serving those other people. Fixate on their needs and how you can fill those needs. The portal to prosperity is to obsess on the needs of other people. That is why we use the same word for praying and serving — worship service and customer service.
One place the Torah makes this clear is in the account of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 42. Not knowing that the Egyptian leader who sold them food is really their long-lost brother Joseph, the 10 brothers head for home only to discover, to their dismay, that their money was returned to them in their sacks. Not unreasonably, they are terrified that they have been set up and will be accused of theft.
Later they are forced, reluctantly, to return to Egypt for more food, and in chapter 44, again Joseph surreptitiously returns their money. What is Joseph trying to teach them with his bizarre behavior?
Well, go back to Genesis 36. Remember, the brothers were going to kill Joseph. Then we read: “And Judah said to his brothers, What profit is there in killing our brother?” Apparently Judah did not discourage his brothers from killing Joseph because to do so would be wrong. He discouraged them from killing Joseph because it was economically unsound. Murder at best is break even, a sale is cash in hand. So they sold him.
Tragically, the brothers mistakenly believed that profit and wealth are more important than relationships — even relationships with a brother!
Joseph was determined to teach them “It’s not the money, stupid!” It is about the relationships. He could hardly make this lesson plainer than by doing exactly what he did — returning their money twice.
People like doing business with those whom they know, like, and trust. In other words, if you want many customers and clients, or you’d like to be offered a new job or you’d like a promotion in the job you have, try to know many people and act in a way that encourages them to like and trust you. In other words, focus on building genuine relationships — out of them will grow wealth. But the reverse, focusing on the money, seldom produces either wealth or friendships.
Are there some loathsome, detestable people who become wealthy? Sure, but it is a tiny minority of the millions of upright, likeable folks who do well by being kind, charming, and trustworthy.
For this reason when one reverses the Hebrew word for wealth — ASHiR, we get the Hebrew word RaSHA — a despicable, wicked individual.
Those two ideas are opposites: Despicable is the opposite of the qualities that typically produce wealth. Remember, worship is healthier than entertainment, but if you must go to the movies, see Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life. In this classic, George Bailey learns that real relationships produce wealth. Not the other way around.