The Lesson of Abraham’s Wealth

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Lech Lecha, we are told of the divine command given to Abraham to leave the land and travel to a new land which God will show him. We are then told about Abraham’s financial status. V’Avram Kaved Meod. And Abram was very rich. Rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. There is much to be learned from this word kaved, or rich. The word most often used for rich or wealthy in the Torah is ashir. So we must be curious about the choice to use kaved here.

In modern Hebrew, we use the word kaved to mean heavy, as in that sofa is too kaved for me to move. It can also mean a burden. The medieval commentator Rashi mentions this meaning in his commentary on the verse, and adds another meaning of kaved that many of us are familiar with. From the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, kabed et avicha v’et imecha – that we should honor our parents – we understand kaved to mean honor or respect. Similarly, from the same root of course is the word for an honor that is given out in synagogue, a kavod. Finally, the word kaved also means liver, the heaviest part of our body. So to review, Abraham, we learn in our parsha this morning is wealthy. We know this from the Hebrew word kaved, which is an unusual choice for wealthy, and also according to the dictionary connotes honor, respect, dignity, seriousness, heaviness, burdensome, taxing, laborious, and liver.

Here it is used to mean that Abraham was weighted down with many possessions because of his wealth. But in the very next verse, we learn that Abraham traveled from the Negev to Beit El “in stages,” l’ma-asav. Rashi tells us that the use of this word means that upon Abraham’s return from Egypt, he took the same route back staying in the same places he had lodged on his way down to Egypt. Rashi points out that while Abraham is wealthier now, he has retained his humility and doesn’t choose to stay in nicer places. Abraham, our patriarch, was not altered by his accumulation of wealth. Recognizing the tendency to be burdened by material wealth, Abraham managed to maintain his kavod when he became kaved. This is not always the case.

As we know from the recent financial meltdown, power and wealth can be burdensome and challenging. In our society, such a vast possession of wealth requires much responsibility and integrity. It catapults people into the public eye, living life in a fishbowl, having every business decision scrutinized, every investment maneuver questioned. There are many advantages to a life of wealth, but it must be done while maintaining kavod – honor.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller