The money trap
This week’s Haftorah deals with one of Jewish history’s most enigmatic characters, the mighty Samson. Samson strategically tackled the challenge the Jewish people faced at the time – the Philistines who waged ongoing war against the Jews. Samson was a righteous and holy judge of Israel for 20 years. He fell in love and married Delilah. Our sages offer two opinions. That Delilah was born a Jewess, while others hold she was a convert to Judaism. Scriptures’ textual nuances show that Delilah was a virtuous woman, and that the love they shared was genuine.
How did Delilah then come to betray Samson? The promise of, and desire for, money.
Delilah was offered a large sum of money by the delegation of Philistine leaders who sought her help to capture Samson. What ensued after the offer of financial enticement was a string of moral lapses and vices that Delilah fell prey to in the course of pursuing the money – adultery, deception, greed, and a hand in torture and her husband’s death.
Our sages analyse the power of the desire for money and the potential harmful effects it can have on one’s character. Money can make monster of a man, becoming their g-d. It can foster selfishness and miserliness, and evoke egotism and conceit. It can, as in Delilah’s case, shift one who is devoted to the other to become devoted to the self.
Yet, when channelled correctly, money can make of a mere man a righteous and G-dly individual. We can see both sets of individuals playing out these archetypal behavioural outcomes.
The Torah contains messages interdispersed across scripture and the oral tradition about the righteous psychology that promotes the correct approach to bounty. These messages are meant to steer us towards the proper path that leads to greater virtue rather than vice. Here are just a few.
Psychology #1: The expression given by Jacob when he responds to bounty that he’d accumulated: “I am humbled.” (Genesis 32:11). The righteous are humbled when there is bestowal in their life. The more they receive, the more humble and grateful they feel. Axiomatically, therefore, they give.
Psychology #2: The righteous don’t think, “It’s my might and talent that brought me this good,” (Deuteronomy 8:17), but rather acknowledge G-d as the source of this blessing. Therefore they give, using their means, towards a G-dly end.
Psychology #3: Consider yourself a stock trader. G-d wires you a certain amount of investment capital to make a profit. If you make Him a profit, in other words use the wealth for the right things – tzedakah, mitzvot, refining character – you are accrued a profit (in this and the next world) and He invests more with you to do more good. The biggest mistake would be to think the investment capital is yours, and use it for your own selfish gain.
These psychologies applied, realise virtue. We can infer what might be if the opposite is applied.