Turning things on their head

The month (or in the case of this year – months) of Adar are traditionally associated with the Hebrew phrase Venahafokh hu, which has become part of the modern Hebrew lexicon. It alludes to the many miracles that occurred in the Purim story, which came about when countless elements were turned on their head. At this time, we are praying for that with even more intensity as the war and unstable situation in Israel continues. However, we can also apply it to our perceived limitations regarding our own financial abilities and perspectives.

We could discuss the age-old argument of nature versus nurture, whether we were born with certain abilities and limitations, or whether our environment, which includes but isn’t limited to parents, family and schools, trained us correctly or messed us up. But I actually think that this discussion is irrelevant. We all have to work with who we are – so let’s use that as our starting point, rather than wasting time trying to pin the blame somewhere else! Let’s begin by recognizing what exactly is the point of money, and from there work through how we can use that knowledge to maximize its use and our personal growth.

Everything we know about finances we glean from formal or informal education. Money impacts on our daily lives in many different arenas.  While in essence money is just a medium of exchange allowing for the transfer of items between parties, in practice, money is so much more.

In fact, money is a medium (not just of exchange) that we should use to help us learn about life, about ourselves and about the people around us. The way to do that is by questioning how we work with it, by identifying our goals, and the reactions and emotions that it brings out in us and our loved ones. So many people are weighed down by personal baggage, based on their life story and how money influenced them.  Did they grow up poor, feeling they never had enough? Was money used to control other family members or was it a taboo subject never discussed but always lurking behind the door?

Without seeking to throw off responsibility, we need to work out our feelings about money and how it impacts on our daily lives.  Does the monthly grind create daily stress that negatively impacts on our health?  Do we shop as an outlet because we are unhappy in our marriages? Money issues remain one of the most significant causes of marital disharmony, often leading to divorce.  Did we or do we continue to rely on others to take care of our monetary decisions outsourcing our long-term financial stability?

Recognizing what our money scripting is telling us will enable us to better manage not only our materialistic wealth but also our midot or character development bringing us unlimited spiritual benefits. Are we naturally stingy or generous? Do we really have the ability to choose how we react to events? Rav Steinsaltz ztz”l in his book ‘The Soul’ describes how midot are not objectively good or bad. They are tendencies that need to be developed and stimulated. If not controlled, the urges can lead you astray. But they aren’t intrinsically good or bad.

For example, when we call someone stingy or careful, there are times when it is negative, but other times when it is positive. Stingy can be applied to someone who does not give to charity and help others. Equally, it is the ability to control expenditure and save for the future. The key is for us to identify and understand our inclinations and then work on improving them. But we can’t make any real changes until we are self-aware. Drop all the pre-conceived notions that money might stir up within us. Internalize the fact that no character trait is positive or negative in and of itself. Then we can work on identifying the positive, and strengthening it within ourselves for our ultimate success. We need to set ourselves up for success by creating the environment or putting ourselves in situations where we can improve.

Everyone has tendencies and weaknesses. It is when we acknowledge and grow from them that they turn into strengths.

May we merit to benefit from these months of Adar, where we see a nahafokh hu, as our modern-day Haman is eradicated, all the hostages are returned safely, our armed forces are successful in all their missions, and all the people of Israel can live safely in harmony in their homes.