Yom Kippur was this weekend, so I fasted and went to temple with Chad and his family. Part of the service were in Hebrew, which I don’t understand, so I amused myself by reading in one of the books they handed out. In addition to the prayers for the service, there were sections full of quotes from the Torah/Bible and some other musings and parables. One story resonated, so I thought I’d share with my readers.
A rich man once came to the Maggid of Koznitz for blessing. ‘What are you in the habit of eating?’ asked the Maggid.
The man replied: ‘I am modest in my demands. Bread and salt, a drink of water, I need no more.’
‘What are you thinking of! You must eat roast meat and drink mead, like all the rich.’ And the rabbi did not let him go until he had promised to change his ways.
Later, to his puzzled chasidim, the Maggid explained: ‘Not until he eats meat will he realize that the poor need bread. As long as he himself eats only bread, he will think the poor can live on stones.’
Chasidic, 18th century
If you’ve given up your TV or are managing with public transportation, it’s common to feel outraged when you see statistics about how 97% of those living under the poverty line have a color TV and 75% own cars. After all, these are always included on lists for Top Ten Ways to Trim Your Budget.
The poor shouldn’t own what we have so easily given up. The poor shouldn’t have a better standard of living than us. It’s even easier to point out that the poor in America have it much easier than the poor in, say, Somalia.
So we allow the chasm between the rich and the poor to grow deeper. We expect the poor to be happy with their bread, because they’re not living on stones and that should be good enough.
What do you think? Is this a new view on frugal/simple living that you’d never thought of? Do you think your charitable giving would be the same if you had a shiny Bentley or a rusty old Yugo? Want to know how my fast went? (Spoiler: it sucked and I had caffeine withdrawal headache all day.)