An old Yeshiva friend reached out to me a while back and asked me if I know anything about cryptocurrency. I told him I was only vaguely familiar with it, though I do know some people who are involved in it. I asked why.
He told me he’d been contacted about investing in it. I suggested that Hashem has numerous ways to give someone parnasa, and that he could make his money other ways. If he had extra money to speculate with that would be one thing, but I happen to know his financial situation is tight.
He came back to me with the point that the person is telling him he could make a lot of money on it, with great returns on his investment. I said, “Of course he’s saying that. Because he makes money by bringing in investors!” If it was so perfect, why would the salesman not just invest in the cryptocurrency himself? Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying it, and there needs to be a significant market for the trade of this currency, but it reminded me of something I’d read some years ago.
There was a certain well-known stock trader who offered seminars on how to make money buying and selling stocks. People would pay hundreds of dollars to attend these seminars in order to learn how they could make tens of thousands by playing the market.
One day, the fellow was investigated for something or another, and his tax returns were made public. It seems that the vast majority of his income came not from stock trading, but from seminars! With all the talk about how valuable this information was, and how easy it would be for people to make money, he knew what a risk it was. Instead, he stuck to teaching other people how to put themselves at risk for the purpose of making money, while he raked in the cash regardless of what they did.
I am not saying that cryptocurrency is a scam, and if you trade in it, please don’t send nasty letters to the editor decrying my ignorance of your business. What I am saying is that instead of investing in something risky, I’d personally prefer to invest in something that is more solid.
There is a famous story that Baron Rothschild was walking with his grandson and gave him a lesson in economics. They had just purchased some apples from a street vendor and a poor man asked them for food. They gave him two apples.
“We bought five apples,” said Rothschild to his grandson. “We gave that man two. How many apples do we have?”
The little boy proudly said, “Five minus two is three. We have three apples!”
“Incorrect,” replied his grandfather. “All we really have is what we’ve given away. We have the two apples we gave to the poor man. That will remain in our Heavenly accounts for eternity.”
The great financier in this story recognized the transitory nature of money and instead valued tzedaka, chesed, and compassion. He was teaching his grandson what is really valuable.
The Torah in Parshas Devarim tells us, “…and you shall make it known to your children and your children’s children. The day you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Chorev…” The single greatest event in history, the one that defined Mankind for all time in all places, was Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.
At that moment, Hashem revealed Himself to us, and revealed us to ourselves. We are not mere mortals, living a physical existence and toiling to make our few years on this world pleasant. On the contrary, we are immortal beings, temporarily stationed here, and we ought to be building up our accounts with good deeds.
Our value system is the Torah, and our currency is the mitzvos Hashem gave us on that day. If we want to make an investment, it ought to be in this rock-solid commodity which was given to our forefathers in the wilderness. Then we know we’ll be building up a nest-egg for the future which means something.
One of the most lucrative investments we can make is investing in other people. By connecting with good people and encouraging them to continue to do good things, we earn a share in those deeds because we were catalysts for them.
Making others happy is also winner of an investment, because Hashem is our father and when one someone makes His children happy, He appreciates it. He responds in kind, and seeks to make us happy as well. How’s that for a return on investment?
How you make your parnasa in this world doesn’t matter, as long as it’s honest and respectable. There are people who’ve gotten rich selling shmattes and junk and people dealing in diamonds who haven’t made it. The Gemara is replete with great sages who were shoemakers and blacksmiths, but who understood the value of the real commodity they were interested in – Toras Hashem, which was given to all of us with love on a little mountain in the wilderness, enabling each us to build a greater fortune than any captain of industry on earth.
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