A monthly prayer for wealth

December 28, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Read on for article

Q. Why do we pray for “a life of riches and honour” in the blessing for the New Moon? Does it really matter so much whether someone has riches?

Rabbi Raymond Apple

A. Many of us who are not so well endowed ask this question every month when we bensch Rosh Chodesh.

We wonder, does our lack of affluence mean God has rejected our plea for “chayyim shel osher”? Or is there something wrong with us ourselves that we do not seem to succeed in making money? Are we failures or nobodies?

It probably all depends on what the prayer means by riches. Maybe it is thinking of the passage in Pirkei Avot (4:1) which says, “Who is rich? He who is contented with his lot”.

In other words, you can be rich in other ways than money. You are rich if you have a stable, settled personality, are at ease with yourself, have no major neuroses, and every morning can say, “Baruch HaShem”!

An example of this philosophy comes from the Rechov HaSabbalim, the Street of the Porters near the markets in Jerusalem, where there used to be a porter who would go about carrying his load and singing, “‘Ana HaShem’, I’m happy! ‘Baruch HaShem’, I’m rich!”

When asked what he meant, the porter said, “What is the word for rich? ‘Ashir’. What do the letters of ‘ashir’ stand for? ‘Einayim’, eyes; ‘shinayim’, teeth; ‘yadayim’, hands; ‘raglayim’, legs. I’m happy and rich because I have my eyes, my teeth, my hands and my legs.”

He’s right – if you have your health, you’re rich!

But don’t you need some money too?

True, you do. But, as the Bible recognised all those centuries ago, it’s not worth it if you’ve gained your money less than honestly (Jer. 17:11, Hab. 2:6), or if money has become your obsession (Eccl. 5:9).

Nor is the money worth it if you use it to bully and bribe your family (“Do as I say or I’ll cut you out of my will!”).

If you have money gained wisely and properly, use it wisely and properly. Disraeli said, “Great wealth is a great blessing to him who knows what to do with it.”

The Talmud said that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, compiler of the Mishnah, “hayah mechabbed ashirim” – “used to honour rich people” – because he knew the rich were useful to society, and could give charity and support the community.


Q. Why does a tallit sometimes have blue stripes?

A. The combination of blue and white has a long history.

When the commandment of wearing fringes on one’s garments was given, a thread of blue had to be inserted in each corner (Num. 15:37-51). The rabbis explained that the blue is like the sea, the sea is like the heavens, and the heavens are like the Throne of Glory.

The particular shade of blue in the fringes was “techelet”, deriving from a dye obtained from a small sea creature known as a “chillazon”. Since this is no longer available (though some scholars have claimed that they have succeeded in replicating the “techelet”), tallitot and tzitziyot have only white threads, but a reminder of the “techelet” comes in the blue stripes on some tallitot.

(It is possible that the black stripes on tallitot worn particularly by Ashkenazim derive from the Rambam’s view that the colour of techelet is actually closer to black, rather than blue.)

Blue figures in a number of other historical contexts. It was part of the décor of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The tablets of the Ten Commandments were housed in an ark covered by a cloth of blue.

In Persian synagogues, blue was the standard colour of the Ark covers and the Torah mantles, perhaps because the Middle Eastern environment attributed protective powers to blue.

In the Mishnah B’rachot, the sages speak about not saying the Shema in the morning until there is enough natural light to tell the difference between blue and white.

Even before the political Zionist movement came into being, suggestions were made, e.g. by the Viennese poet Ludwig August Frankl, that the Jewish flag should be blue and white. A Zionist society in Boston actually displayed in 1891 a flag with two blue stripes on a white background with the Magen David in the centre.

One of the great Zionist pioneers, David Wolffsohn, said the Zionist flag should follow the design of the tallit, which he declared to be the age-old flag of the Jewish people.

Herzl liked the idea of a flag; when critics said a flag was just a piece of cloth on a pole, he said, “Yes – but with a piece of cloth on a pole you can lead people anywhere, even to the Promised Land!”

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.