>The Value of Small Things

>Many people today have a stereotypical view of Jews when it comes to the matter of money. Most of these stereotypes about Jews and money reinforce anti-Semitic views and should be strongly condemned by all.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, writing for the Jewish World Review, has a good article about Jews and money and the secret of their economic success. He wrote that the Hebrew people, “at least the materially successful among us — [have] a keen awareness of the fact that even a small thing has value.”

To illustrate his point, he used as an example the patriarch Jacob and what the Talmud has to say about him. He wrote:

As the Talmud puts it, “Each and every penny contributes to a large sum” (Bava Basra, 9b).

As it happens, the Jewish ideal of valuing even the smallest thing goes beyond the realization that things add up. It is a recognition of the inherent value of every thing.

In mere weeks, Jews in synagogues the world over will read the Torah portion in which our forefather Jacob, after transporting his family and possessions across a river, took pains to cross back over again, endangering himself. The Talmud conveys a tradition that the reason Jacob returned was to retrieve some “small jars.”

“From here we see,” the Rabbis went on to explain, “that the possessions of the righteous are as dear to them as their bodies.”

That comment is not counseling miserliness; Jacob is the forefather emblematic of the ideal of “truth” or honesty. What the Talmud is conveying, rather, is a quintessentially Jewish truth: Material things, no matter how seemingly “worthless,” have worth.

The lessons we learn from Jacob’s life and Rabbi Shafran’s conclusion is worth pondering:

Possessions are tools, in their essence morally neutral; put to a holy purpose, they are sublime. And so, Judaism teaches, valuing a simple, small coin can be a sign not of avarice but of wisdom. And what is more — and even more important — just as small amounts of money can in fact be worth much, so can small acts of goodness.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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