In the wonderful musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye describes in song what he would do “if I were a rich man.” His wish list had him not having to work hard. Next, he would build a big, tall house in the middle of the town and fill the yard with all kinds of squawking fowl.
Of course he would pamper his wife, Golde, and fatten her up to a scale of double chins. Having given up farm labor he would spend his time fielding questions from the important men of the village. Then with extra hours at his disposal he would sit by the eastern wall discussing holy books with learned men.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
Personally, if I were a wealthy man, I would have an alternative plan. First, I would skip the chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks. Well, actually first I wouldn’t sing deedle deedle dum, then forget the birds. The combined screeching between the hens and my solo would be too much. Besides, the droppings would be a mess.
Second, let’s just say my wife has no desire for a proper double chin. Nor is she inclined to airs and strutting around like a peacock screaming at anyone.
The other options like hanging out with the rich, learned and important have their appeal. But the real bang of being rich would be to buy off my insecurities. Those in the world with few or no insecurities are rich already. For the rest of us, it would be nice for God to adjust his vast eternal plan and make us wealthy.
Like Tevye, we think we can buy anything in this world with money. Unfortunately, insecurities are not for sale at any price payable by man. Insecurities are the emotional doubts or the feelings of fear or inadequacy that grow from childhood experiences. They are viruses of the comparative disease of pride.
Just like the poor Ukrainian milkman wanting to converse with the learned, we often hold quiet counsels with ourselves. Since the vast eternal plan doesn’t always include not having to work or to have stairs going nowhere, our fantasies fly to if we were rich from the power ball lottery.
In our dreams we bestow millions on this good cause or that noble foundation. This giving of the make-believe wealth makes us feel good but is without any personal price tag. There is no sacrifice. It is just a game of pretending with grand non-existing generosity.
But since it is security we are trying to purchase, giving actual money away in real life has a cost. If we believe financial riches make us happy or important, giving it away threatens our fragile emotional foundation.
Therefore, if we give away all our winnings there goes our purchased security. But on the other hand we can’t be seen giving only a little. We don’t want to associate with any widows whose donations are calculated in mites. In our insecurity, the $5 or $10 contributions don’t fly because it would make us look cheap. We can’t afford that. We want the glory and the money, but we can’t have both.
Besides, there is no shopping aisle for peace of mind, clear conscious or a special sale on security. A checker can’t call out, “doubt remover on aisle 5.” The problem is the poor in spirit don’t have sufficient emotional funds to give.
The parable of the widow’s mite illustrates the relative generosity compared to the rich, and her offering was without having to win the Holy Land Sweepstakes. She was secure in her faith that allowed her to give. She was not ashamed of her poverty.
For us who need the lottery to give, start with a mite first then work up to a dinar.
So instead of singing about being wealthy, we need to hum humility deedle deedle dum.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected].