By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 79 – Money Matters
It’s a question of which option is a better investment. The wife got a yerusha of cash – about which the halacha is that the money is invested, the wife retains ownership of the principal, and the husband has rights to the profits – and there is a disagreement between them regarding how to invest the money. Agricultural land or residential properties? Residential or date groves? Date groves or other types of fruit orchards? Other types of fruit orchards or a vineyard? In each case, it is the choice that is the better investment which is selected, irrespective of which spouse wants what.
The Gemara says that agricultural land is a better investment than residential properties, residential is better than date groves, date groves are better than other fruit orchards, and other fruit orchards are better than vineyards. The Poskim explain that, essentially, it is a matter of time and place, and really the main thing is whichever investment produces the greatest profits with the most minimal expense (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’Ezer 85:13, and Chelkas Mechokeik 33). It just so happened that in the time of Chazal the standards determined the generalities that the Gemara prescribes; but the fundamental point of the halacha is which investment is better.
Interestingly enough, Tosafos asks that we find a Gemara elsewhere that implies that vineyards can be very profitable, more so than other fruit orchards. That seems to be in direct contradiction with our Gemara here. Tosafos answers that it is a relative assessment. Vineyards can produce much more, but that is only if the owner has the ability and drive to invest a lot into the expenses associated with all the various forms of upkeep that vineyards demand. Otherwise, the vineyard will fall into terrible disrepair.
So, is a vineyard a superior investment or not? What we see is that it really depends on whether or not the buyer truly understands what he is getting himself into or not. Apparently, at least in the context of the average family, Chazal determined that, in the aggregate, a vineyard is the least desirable option because most people probably will not wind up putting into it what is really required to make it successful. It’s all about the balance of weighing the relative considerations of maximum profit and minimal investment.
The sheer number of investment pitches with which we are bombarded nowadays is just staggering. The papers, periodicals, websites, and apps are often covered with them. And a lot of them seem really tempting. Who doesn’t want to make good money? Especially if there are promises of a fast turnover and zero overhead in terms of management. It can be hard to not jump at what looks like a golden opportunity. But, if there is one thing that we can definitely take out of this sugyah and apply on the practical level to our own lives it is this: Not so fast!
You have to be smart about it.
Plenty of people have been taken in by bad investments and lost a lot. And the collateral damage to their lives can be devastating. Perhaps it was a bogus scam and the people behind were crooks. Other times it may have been a legitimate, above-board deal, but the people involved didn’t take the necessary steps to ensure appropriate levels of investment security. Or the deal was just plain bad. They thought a certain area or product, for example, would become highly in demand and it just didn’t turn out that way. Developers – whether of a project, product, concept, new software, or otherwise – are bound to be excited about their endeavor. After all, they are in it head and shoulders, and they need to do a great job selling their idea in order to get investors on board. But you have to be careful. One can’t just allow others’ excitement and high-hopes to incapacitate one’s faculty of making mature, well-thought-out decisions.
How one handles monetary affairs is not only going to be heavily influenced by one’s moral standards and ethics, but it is a moral issue in of itself. Ha’Torah chasah al mamonan shel Yisrael. Responsible financial management is key in terms of assuring peace of mind and happiness. Not that fiscal comfort provides happiness, but it does prevent money-worries from robbing one of happiness.
Beyond that, though, it is a moral imperative.
Our sugyah today is busy determining which investment is better for this couple, land or residential, orchards or vineyards. Doesn’t that make it clear that this is not meant to be a matter of self-centered gashmiyus, but something that the Torah wants and expects from us to deal with properly? Of course, minimizing one’s involvement with matters of gashmiyus as much as possible is a lofty goal towards which everyone can and should strive according to their individual level, abilities, and circumstances. As the Mishna in Avos says, “Minimize your business dealings, and involve yourself with Torah”. In no way, though, is that meant to imply a lackadaisical or reckless attitude regarding one’s finances. Particularly when it comes to family finances. One Rav said that most shalom bayis problems stem from issues pertaining to money. So, from whatever angle you look at it, money management and financial responsibility is a very important value. A value that deserves and demands an appropriate investment of time and thought to do it right.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.