The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

High Holy Days, 5772 (2011) The Money Culture and Finding the Soul of Money

 Rabbi Stern's High Holy Day Sermon Video

The video above is one version of the sermon as presented, the version that you heard might have been slightly different.  Feel free to respond to what you heard or the version above.  Additionally, a text version is available here

Here are guidelines for comment submission.  All comments will be monitored before publication on this web page.
  • This dialogue, above all, should be respectful and courteous, though a healthy debate and dialogue about the ideas is encouraged.  
  • Rabbi Stern will not respond unless specifically asked by a comment to do so.  This is the time for the listeners of the sermon to speak. 
  • All comments must have respondent's first name and last initial in order to be published. This will encourage respectful dialogue and productive conversation.
  • If comments are deemed by the moderator to be unproductive to thoughtful conversation, the submitter will be asked to resubmit a more appropriate version.  If you do not see your comment posted it is likely that it was delayed for this reason. Please email for feedback about your submission.  
The phrase "The Soul of Money" is inspired by a book by the same name: The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources by Lynne Twist and Teresa Barker (Oct 17, 2006).  There is also a Soul of Money Institute learn more here

 You may submit your comments and responses to the sermon by clicking the send comment icon below. REMEMBER: You must type your first name and last initial before submitting your comment as the last line of your text. 


Shahrokh Mokhtarzadeh said...

I appreciated and enjoyed listening to Rabbi Stern's sermon. However, I am not sure if the title, "Soul of Money" is an accurate title regarding what Rabbi Stern was addressing. Money is a medium of exchange. In and of itself, Money has no living attribute to provide it with a soul. However, our pursuit of money and our insatiable desire to accumulate as much money as possible appeared to me to be a more accurate description of Rabbi Stern's comments. During the past three years I have listened to our Temple's clergy discuss Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations and the need to tone down such celebrations and/or parties particularly in light of the recent financial downturn. However, many in our congregation have not exactly cut back on such vast celebrations, which nowadays put most weddings or other larger celebrations to shame. It appears that we have become obsessed with living for the moment and satisfying our immediate desires. Within this context, putting ourselves into substantial debt to be able to afford the larger house, the larger car, the larger lifestyle, is something we would rather do than considering the alternative. I don't know what has caused this rush toward glamour. While I think that Media and the celeb-minded lifestyles may have something to do with it, I am also at a loss of understanding what is going on in our midst. I was taught early on that "Just Because I Can Do Something, It Does Not Mean that I Should Do Something." Many of my friends who appear to follow the same lesson, nevertheless appear to be unable to control various aspects of their lives consistently in that manner. Many of my friends at the Temple have complained about hard times, just as Rabbi Stern has described in his sermon. However, despite that fact, it did not stop them from committing to large expenditures that could be easily avoided. While I do not have a problem with observing one living life any way one may wish, I am baffled about the choices that are being made by those who have earned substantial sums of money, even after the financial crisis of the past few years. I am curious to find out what are the roots and what are the motivations behind those who make such choices and elect to go in debt to afford such luxuries that we can easily do without. I am also hoping to answer the questions posed on me by my three sons regarding the decisions my wife and I make on day to day basis regarding our lifestyle. However, my children always have stories about kids who are walking about with the latest smart phones, with the latest laptop, and/or planning to purchase the most expensive sports cars about. What is going on at SSW Temple community? Is this what we should aspire to? Why are we allowing the current to pull us away in this manner???. . . . I would love to hear from others on this and their views on the issues raised by Rabbi Stern. The topic is extremely important and timely from where I sit. Thank you. Shahrokh Mokhtarzadeh.

Anonymous said...

I think it is time that society learns to live within their means. This society is, I see it, I want it, I buy it. There is no stopping the appetite ( I must be the first to have the new toy. When things are not going well, people are embrassed to say ( I can't do that right now), they need to sit down with their families and have a dialogue about what is going on. It will surprise many how understanding the family will be. We need to look around and try and understand how lucky we are, there are children going to school without breakfast. How can they learn to become contributing citizens when they are too hungry to learn. We have to help those that need it. We need to go back to some old fashioned roots-helping one another. It might sound corny to some but it is true.
Sally Levine

Kazia P. said...

I just got home from tonight's sermon, and it could not have hit home harder. It has been something that I have already been thinking about a great deal, and it was perfect timing to have it said aloud.

I would like to think of myself as a smart person. A person who tries to live within my means. I try to save. I try to be polite when I cannot afford to go out to dinner with friends etc (I am just over a year married, with a brand new baby, working as a teacher - husband looking for work). But I fall into "it" as well. I want those new shoes...that purse... but is that what really makes me happy? Or is it the moments when my new daughter recognizes me and smiles. Or when I am sitting with my parents as I watch them enjoy their grandchild. This is what life is about.

...Yet, we find ourselves in the position to feel ashamed, embarrassed. When, for example, at our good friend's wedding which is approaching, if we do not give at least $300 we might as well not come. (Of course this is not said, it's just pretty much assumed in this community)
That money is so extremely valuable right now.
(The thing I'd like to imagine is, they would not mind if I gave much less, or even a simple, thoughtful present... somehow, things have just gotten out of hand)

I ask you, and myself, why are we allowing these expectations? I am vowing to continue to be polite, and live within my means, and you yours. I believe we can help one another by doing this.

Anonymous said...
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Andrew Cohen, M.D. said...

I love that Rabbi Stern did a video and is blogging. Very impressed and happy that we are doing this! Thank you Rabbi Stern for making me think during your sermon. I have already come to grips with saving and spending less.. I don't care what all the LA folks are doing. I am happy with my life and family and have passed this to my kids who don't need the latest and greatest and don't need to keep up with their friends. They are smart and well adjusted and will have great and fun but smaller bar mitzvahs..

Anonymous said...

judith d.
As many members get older and are living on a fixed retirement income or have lost their jobs it would be a greater incentive to keep up temple membership if it were at a reduced rate for seniors and others in need of such a reduction.Otherwise, many will continue to only buy tickets for the High Holy Holidays, and not participate the rest of the year in all the Temple has to offer.

Edward Ring said...

It isn't money or the amassing of money that's the problem. The real issue is our never-ending search outside ourselves for satisfaction. We think making more money will make us happy, but then we get more money and aren't any happier. We strive for greater and greater power at work, but at each level, we find there is even more power to attain and thus aren't happy. We dump out of relationships in search of new relationships that will make us happier, and then, amazingly enough, we aren't any happier in the new relationships. So, if we can prove, as I've stated above, that money isn't making us any happier, and of course we all want to be happier, then we need to shift our focus (obsession) from money to something more basic. Giving the money away to improve the lives of others seems like a good place to start. Then, you get to come to grips with the reality of what you've been focused on and live a more truthful life, you get to help put smiles on the faces of struggling families and you get to help start a new obsession-- giving. In the Tlingkit tribe of the Pacific Northwest, the tradition of throwing a "potlatch" was an opportunity for the wealthiest of the tribe to throw a massive party - to the point that he would become broke after throwing it. But after the potlatch, he was more highly revered and held in greater esteem than before. After, he had nothing material. Only respect. And for that, he was ostensibly happier. Examples of better social living are found all over the place. As Jews, we should be studying those examples and porting our own unique Jewish viewpoint to express the message in a modern way. Thanks Rabbi Stern for starting the conversation.

Anonymous said...

We need to put more emphasis on other things in place of the most lavish Bar or bat Mitzvah, the gifts that go with it and the luxury possessions that seem to trap so many people. Why don't people understand the gratification that comes with helping others, doing charity work and not so much on material things. Why don't we applaud those that do those things and not idolize those that display wealth. Living with ones means is so important to ones health and a great example to the children in the household growing up.

arthur s said...

I am still quite upset not with the topic of Rabbi Stern's sermon but with how he presented it. I felt that pointing fingers at how people chose to spend money at their families Bar/Bat Mitzvah was inappropriate and went over the line of "biting the hand that feeds you." I thought that putting a spotlight on the over spending of this generation while people are struggling is a ripe topic for discussion. If someone has the ability to celebrate in a way that is within their means, isn't that their choice. If Rabbi Stern followed his own sermon, he would move out of his house, into a smaller, less expensive apartment. Something about "those who live in glass houses, shouldnt throw stones." Good message...poor delivery.
Arthur S.

rose r said...

What a perfect High Holy Day sermon. It provided an interesting framework for me to evaluate my behaviors and values, and to reflect on what I am conveying to my children, either inadvertently or purposefully.

Shahrokh Mokhtarzadeh said...

Arthur: I listened to the same sermon and I did not take away what you apparently did. I don't think Rabbi Stern was pointing fingers at anyone. No one is suggesting that those who have ability to pay for lavish parties, that somehow they should not. The question is whether it is appropriate (or not) to hold such lavish parties when others in our immediate community are suffering. Or whether it is appropriate for those who can, to necessarily be obligated to throw such lavish parties. I think he was referring to the peer pressure existing within the Temple's families, particularly among the mothers at Wise (the last point re mothers at Wise is mine!!!) . . . . I also did not conclude that somehow those who have ability to pay for such parties that they are somehow obligated to do so. The question is whether they should or not. Ultimately, the question is about how money is changing how we act within a community. I agree with Andrew and Kazia regarding the concept of living within one's means and being content with that. The fact that my neighbor may throw a massive party should not be translated to obligate me to do the same. Rabbi Stern's sermon reinforced that it is okay NOT to keep up with the Jonses. . . Similarly, on issues such as which smart phone the kids want, what car to buy, where to live, etc., I guess it is ok for each of us to do what is best for him or her without regard to what others are doing who may have more expensive taste. Nevertheless, my earlier question remains: Just because we can do "X", should we do "X"? Many of us can afford to throw lavish parties. But should we? . . . I don't think I buy Edward's point that "giving away money" such as in the case of the tribe he described, should be made applicable to our community. Earning respect by throwing a lavish party is not a value we should adhere to in my humble opinion. . . . Furthermore, Rabbi Stern's point regarding those among us who have become addicted to a certain life-style to an extent that once it can not be sustained any longer, results in serious withdrawal effects, is also not only true, but also a warning to the rest of us, who can maintain our high flying lifestyles for now and as long as the cash-flow exists. However, more difficult days are ahead in light of our current economic picture. Are we ready or willing to accept living with less??? . . .

Kathy N. said...

I try to always remind myself that I am rich, and I have always been rich. I do not have the means to buy a luxury car, or a house (any house) in Los Angeles, but I have car that fulfills all my needs, enough food, a decent apartment with a guest bedroom, a warm bed, and I never worry about whether I have enough to pay my bills or for a tank of gas, and I have enough to give to tzedakah as well. Once I pay my bills, I do have to budget what's left over, but I have choices. I have enough financial freedom that I can make my own choices about where I work, where I live, who I associate with, etc. Compared to most of the world (and many, many people in L.A.), I am rich. How many people in Los Angeles feel that their neighborhood is unsafe (and are probably right) but don't have the means to move somewhere else? How many people might be living in their cars or crammed into a room with more than one family because they can't pay rent and are on a long waiting list for housing assistance? It is probably more people than we think. It's easy to lose my perspective in Los Angeles and think, "I'm not rich, those people with the Porsche and the mansion in Beverly Hills, they're rich," but actually I am rich as long as I can take care of all of my needs, plus have a little extra to save and buy a few things that are not necessities.

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