Relating to Wisdom, Strength, and Wealth: Part Two

Dear Friends,


In this letter, we shall continue to discuss the teachings of Rav Dessler regarding the Divine gifts of wisdom, strength, and wealth:




The human being has in his power to gain all the treasures of this world or to destroy them. It is a choice between two extremes, and his will alone can decide. Our Sages have shown us, in a poetic midrash of great power and beauty, what the alternatives are:


“Three great gifts were created in the world. The one who merits but one of them possesses the treasure of the whole world. If he has acquired wisdom, he has everything. If he has acquired might, he has everything. If he has acquired wealth, he has everything; but when? Only if they (are treated as) gifts from heaven and coming from the power of the Torah.” (Numbers Rabbah 22:7)


The above Midrash adds that when these gifts are viewed as human possessions to be used for our selfish purposes, “they are nothing.” The Midrash also cites examples of well-known individuals who are mentioned in our Sacred Scriptures – those who forgot that wisdom, might, and wealth are Divine gifts and who therefore began to use these gifts for their own selfish purposes:


“Two great savants arose in the world: one from Israel and one from the nations of the world; Achisofel from Israel and Bil’am from the nations of the world; and both perished from the world.

Two very mighty individuals arose in the world: one from Israel and one from the nations of the world; Samson from Israel and Goliath from the nations of the world; and both perished from the world.

Two very rich individuals arose in the world: one from Israel and one from the nations of the world; Korach from Israel and Haman from the nations of the world; and both perished from the world.” (Ibid)


In his comments on the above midrashic teaching, Rav Dessler states:


We need not be surprised therefore when we see that all the unprecedented advances in science, wealth, and power have not succeeded on the whole in making the world a happier place. Troubles still crowd in on us, wars follow one another, and humankind is threatened with extinction. And all because the human being insists on using his great gifts for selfish ends, to gratify his own greed, instead of seeing them for what they are – means given him to help realize the great spiritual goals set by the Creator.  The process may be a long one: “Because the sentence for wrongdoing is not executed quickly” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But what are a few centuries on God’s time scale?  Eventually, the prediction of the Midrash will be realized and all humankind will see that gifts, when directed away from God, “are nothing.” We are witnessing the beginning of this fulfillment in our own day.

It seems that there is an inescapable law in the world which prevents humankind from realizing its goal of making the world a better and happier place so long as it refuses to direct its great gifts towards the Giver. Humankind resists; it refuses to recognize this law; it plunges on in the forlorn hope that maybe somewhere, sometime, a breakthrough will be made and science will ensure a happy and fulfilled life for all – on its own terms. We can safely make the prediction that this will never occur. It is clear why this must be so. The world was not created as an end in itself, but as a means to the realization of a greater end – nothing less than the fullest development of the spiritual potential of the human being – the greatest possible expansion of the Divine power of holiness in the world. Everything must participate in the great struggle for the realization of this goal until the ultimate end is achieved and the whole world  with its millions of beings becomes part of the revelation of the Divine name and glory.


The world will never have shalom – peace and harmony – until humankind substitutes spiritual for material goals: that is, until the coming of the Messiah. This is the meaning of the Targum (Aramaic translation and commentary) on the following Divine statement in Isaiah 62:1:


“Until I bring redemption to Zion I will give no rest to the nations, and until I bring consolation to Jerusalem, I will give no shalom to the kingdoms.”


So long as the three gifts are misused, the result must be war, anxiety, trouble, and disturbance on a world scale. “There is no shalom, says My God, for the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21). Shalom will come to this troubled world only when “redemption will come to Zion” – when Israel, the people of the Torah, themselves return to Torah, and through them the world, too, will at last bring itself into accord with the Divine purposes of creation.”




As the above Divine statement cited by Rav Dessler indicates, we, the people of the Torah, will fully return to the Torah and thereby dedicate the three gifts to serving the Divine purposes for creation. In this way, we will complete the mission we were given at the dawn of our collective history, when the Compassionate One told Moshe to proclaim the following message to Pharaoh, the ruler of a powerful and wealthy nation that believed that it had the greatest wisdom:


“You shall say to Pharaoh: ‘So said Hashem, My firstborn child is Israel; so I say to you, Send out My child that he may serve Me’ ” (Exodus 4:22,23)


“My firstborn child” – “the first for My service when all the nations strayed from Me.” (An explanation of the Sforno, a classical biblical commentator)


We are the “firstborn child” in the spiritual sense, as our role is to be the first nation to dedicate its collective gifts to serving the life-giving goals of the Compassionate One. Through the power and inspiration of our example, other nations will experience this spiritual rebirth, as the Compassionate One proclaimed regarding the messianic age:


“For then I will change the nations (to speak) a pure language, so that they will all proclaim the Name of Hashem, to serve Him with a united resolve.” (Zephaniah 3:9)


Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


The above insights from Rav Dessler are found in an English edition of his mussar teachings, “Strive for Truth” (Part One), translated by Rav Aryeh Carmell, one of Rav Dessler’s foremost disciples. The original Hebrew edition, Michtav Eliyahu, was prepared by Rav Carmell after Rav Dessler passed away. “Strive for Truth” is published by Feldheim:

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