[For those who came looking for my post from last night: Sorry, but I took it down. The post was too simplistic for the idea I wanted to convey. Perhaps I will re-visit the topic at some point.]
The gemara [Gittin 57a] tells of an anonymous matron from the house of Boethus [see Marta bat Baytus here] who lived during the Roman siege of Yerushalayim. She sent her servant to the market for fine flour, but it was sold out before he arrived. He was not a terribly independent thinker, and he returned home for guidance on purchasing flour of a poorer quality. The matron sent him back for the cheaper flour, but, once again, it was sold out by the time he arrived. Again, he returned home for guidance.
This scene went through four iterations, the servant going for four different types of flour and, each time, returning empty-handed. [Maharsha suggests a link to the four types of flour-offerings brought in the beit hamikdash.]
Finally, the matron goes out to the streets herself, experiences something that is a shock to her pampered system (see the gemara there), and dies. During her pre-death shock, she throws her gold and silver into the streets, declaring, “What use is this to me?”
That story has always bothered me:
• First, was this servant truly so dull-witted that he didn’t realize he should purchase the best remaining flour, rather than go home to consult?
• And second, while the emotional aspect of the matron throwing her money into the street is clear, is there a deeper message? The gemara there connects it to Yechezkel's prediction [Yechezkel 7] that the Jews would throw their gold and silver into the streets; perhaps there is a deeper message involved?
Two stories of my own:
• I was recently cheated of some funds. I got over the loss quickly, but I remained troubled by what this told me about the person's personality.
• A while back, someone offered me money as a gift, for something I had done. I declined to take it for myself, and this person was upset.
These events, and similar ones, set me thinking about what money means to us, beyond the ability to purchase our (perceived) needs.
It seems to me that money is often our interface with the world; whether in coins or bills or barter, it is the “currency” of our relationships:
• What we do with money displays our values;
• The way we share or use our money shapes our relationships;
• Our financial decisions are key ways we exercise control over our world;
• Our spending shapes our commitments to others;
• And so on.
There is much more to say here, many sources could be invoked, etc., but it’s a blog post, not a derashah. [No derashah to write this week! What an odd feeling.] Bottom line: Our use of money, like our facial expression or our speech, is a key interface between us and the world, a statement of our identity.
This may be Yechezkel's message of people casting money into the streets; more than a statement that money is worthless during a famine, it’s a statement that their entire persons are gone, their identity is gone.
And perhaps that’s why the matron’s servant couldn’t act on his own: He feared misrepresenting his boss in public, lest her man be seen purchasing sub-quality produce.
Of course, since this week is Parshat Reeh, the message does tie into tzedakah as presented in Devarim 15:7-11. If our spending is an expression of our identity, then surely tzedakah is a way for us to express that finest element of our personalities…
Okay, fill in your own derashah and closer here; I told you, this is a blog post, not a derashah.