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While the lack of uniformity of the physical world remains a mystery of the Big Bang (how come that what once was unified and homogeneous shattered into pieces so different in sizes - from photons to stars billion times larger than our Sun) I stumbled upon similar the mystery of the souls.

A simple question would be - how does Judaism explain the vast differences between personal property - from the poor and homeless to multi-billionaires, possessing empires the size of a decent country?

A more deep question would be - assuming the personal possessions are the extension of the soul, the external part of the soul (worth a separate question explaining), how does G-d allow such differences in soul "sizes" or "dimensions"? And how did it develop from G-d's eyes view (for we hold that G-d is one to decide on a person's wealth)?

Please note: the question is NOT about poverty or the relative perception of wealth and happiness - the question is about the VAST DIFFERENCE of what people get.

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  • Also line 6 on the amud @Joel linked – DonielF Apr 9 at 14:03
  • If you are talking about the poor, the Bava Batra quote answered you. But your question goes beyond that: Differences bother you. So let me ask YOU: Why should "the vast differences in personal property" be of concern, if everybody has the basic necessities of life? – Maurice Mizrahi Apr 9 at 15:30
  • You could ask a more basic question as well; how does Hashem distribute any basic value? Why are some people smarter, stronger, etc? (I suspect think it's one of those G-d's ways questions, that we can't really answer.) – Rafael Apr 10 at 1:24
  • @JoelK I clarified that the question is NOT about poverty, but the difference. THe passage only addresses poverty. Also DonielF – Al Berko Apr 10 at 6:39
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Ramchal, Derech Hashem 2:3:1:

הנה כבר הקדמנו שענין העבודה שנמסרה לאדם תלוי במה שנבראו בעולם עניני טוב ועניני רע, והושם האדם ביניהם לבחור לו את הטוב. ואולם פרטי עניני הטוב רבים הם, וכן פרטי עניני הרע, כי הלא כל מדה טובה מכלל הטוב, והפך זה כל מדה רעה. דרך משל הגאוה א׳ מעניני הרע, והענוה מעניני הטוב. הרחמנות מעניני הטוב והפכה האכזריות. ההסתפקות והשמחה בחלקו מעניני הטוב והפכה מעניני הרע, וכן כל שאר פרטי המדות. והנה שיערה החכמה העליונה כל פרטי הענינים מזה המין שראוים לימצא וליפול אפשרותם בחק האנושיות לפי התכלית העיקרי שזכרנו במקומו, והמציא אותם בכל בחינותיהם סבותיהם ומסובביהם וכל המתלוה להם, וחקק אפשרותם באדם כמ״ש. ואמנם לשימצאו כל אלה הענינים הוצרכו מצבים שונים בבני האדם, שכולם יהיו נסיון להם במה שיתנו מקום לכל פרטי בחינות הרע האלה, ומקום לאדם להתחזק כנגדם ולתפוס בטובות. דרך משל אם לא היו עשירים ועניים, לא היה מקום לשיהיה האדם מרחם ולא אכזרי, אך עתה הנה ינוסה העשיר בעשרו, אם יתאכזר על העני הצריך לו או אם ירחם עליו. וכן ינוסה העני אם יסתפק במועט שבידו ויודה לאלקיו או להפך. עוד יהיה העושר לעשיר נסיון לראות אם ירום בו לבו או אם ימשך בו אחר הבלי העולם ויעזוב את עבודת בוראו. ואם עם כל עשרו יהיה עניו ונכנע ומואס בהבלי העולם ובוחר בתורה ועבודה, וכן כל כיוצא בזה. ואמנם חילקה החכמה העליונה את מיני הנסיון האלה בין אישי מין האנושי כמו שגזרה בעומק עצתה היותו ראוי ונאות. ונמצא לכל איש ואיש מבני האדם חלק מיוחד בניסיון ובמלחמת היצר, והוא פקודתו ומשאו בעה״ז, וצריך לעמוד בו כפי מה שהוא. ויודנו מעשיו במדת דינו ית׳ כפי המשא אשר ניתן לו באמת בכל בחינותיו בתכלית הדקדוק. והנה זה כעבדי המלך שכולם עומדים למשמעתו, ובין כלם צריך שתשתלם עבודת מלכותו, והנה הוא מפלג לכל א׳ מהם חלק מה, עד שבין כלם ישתלמו כל החלקים המצטרכים לו. והנה כל א׳ מהם מוטל עליו השלמת החלק ההוא אשר נמסר לו, וכפי פעולתו בפקודתו כן יגמלהו המלך. אך מדת החילוק הזה ודרכיו נשגבים מאד מהשגתנו וא״א לנו לעמוד עליהם, כ״א החכמה העליונה הנשגבה מכל שכל, היא שיערתם והיא סידרתם באופן היותר שלם

(Paraphrased summary) Hashem's goal in the world was for there to be opportunities towards good and evil, and for man to have the option to choose between them. For reasons explained earlier, Hashem made a great variety of methods of good and evil, and He therefore presented a multitude of opportunities to present the different challenges. This necessitates people having very different situations and circumstances, each of which present an element of test in a certain domain. For example, the existence of wealth enables a particular set of challenges associated with wealth, and the existence of poverty enables a different set of challenges. In this way, Hashem divides the complete set of challenges among mankind, each having his unique challenge according to his unique set of character and circumstances, and between all of them Hashem's mission will be fulfilled. However, understanding of the specifics of this division is beyond our capacity to grasp.

In a footnote, R' Chaim Friedlander explains that it is precisely this variety of circumstance and challenge that makes it possible that we all share together in a universal mission. Because my part is uniquely mine, and yours is uniquely yours, but they both contribute to the completion of the greater picture, we are each an integral part of one project and earn a place in the total perfection created between everyone.

  • Thank you (you could leave the bold part alone though). I think, again, it does not address the magnitude of the difference, the question asked about. "That's the Divine intention" just doesn't cut it (for me), because this mechanism is what moves the world forward on the large scale, so there's got to be an explanation on this scale and not only on personal - me relatively bigger than you. I suppose your answer is the closest possible, which saddens me a bit, as this question (seemingly) wasn't thought out thoroughly. – Al Berko Apr 11 at 8:36
  • @AlBerko I can't tell you what should "cut it" for you, but I think this entirely addresses the question of magnitude of difference. If rich/poor was a binary question, it would not allow for specifically what the Ramchal describes, which is a vast variety of life situations. For everyone who ever lived to have a unique circumstance, there must be a wide range. (I've seen estimates that so far, 100 billion people have lived on Earth.) – Y     e     z Apr 11 at 13:11
  • Let me compare it to the lifespan - people vary in it, but not like some die young and some live to 10000 years. So Ramchal works for the lifespan but 10000 years is too much. Also Ramchal shows no understanding of the social and global implications of such differences and only see it as a personal challenge. – Al Berko Apr 11 at 19:58
  • @AlBerko (a) actually, some children die shortly after being born, at the age of .00001 years old, while others live to the age of 100, so they live to be 10000000 times older than the others. (b) I don't know why you are convinced that the social implications are the driving force as opposed to G-d's purpose for creation of the world. (c) I don't think that wealth inequality necessarily creates a more different society than other differences throughout history, such as technological advancement. There are extreme individual outliers, but it isn't essentially different. – Y     e     z Apr 11 at 20:23
  • a) compared to average salary/lifespan. the top 5% (not 0.5%) in the US make 10 times more than the average (think 700 years) and top 1% make 36 times (think 2500 years) b) because it is. The whole world was/is driven by the top .001% - kings, governors, presidents and their clans. c) If the income level differences mimicked the lifespan the world would probably remain in the stone age. – Al Berko Apr 11 at 20:44
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Everyone gets the same --- we all have a lot in life designed to best get us from who we are and where to are to who and where we're supposed to be. The rich get wealth because their souls need those opportunities, and the challenges that come with opportunity and power. The poor get poverty because their souls need its more obvious challenges. Or, a soul can't handle the challenges of poverty of of being middle class and so is spared from the consequent downfall, whereas another soul wouldn't avoid the corruption or other challenges of money, and it's spared. In any case, each soul is getting the life best tailored for its success as a self-refining "image" of the Divine.

See the Ramchal (Derekh Hashem 2:3:1) that Y e z paraphrases in his answer.

That is why anyone could be rich, regardless of what they own. To quote Ben Zoma (Avos 4:1):

איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו, שנאמר ״יְגִיעַ ַּכּפֶ יָך ּכ ִ י ת ֹאכֵ ל, אַ ׁש ְ רֶ יָך וְ טֹוב לָ ְך״.

Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

Ben Zoma begs the question: While it is good to be happy with what you have, without care, it can become a recipe for complacency. If I am content with anything, what motivates striving?

The the key term to understanding Ben Zoma’s intent is “chelko—his portion.” What is a person’s cheileq? Well, we are told, “All of Israel has a cheilek l’Olam Haba, a portion toward the World to Come.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 11:1) Our portion is toward — not what we have now, but a goal; in this case a life’s ultimate goal. A person’s cheileq is not what they have in a moment; it describes the full path a life takes. In other words, Ben Zoma is not advising that true wealth is to stop striving for something beyond what we have, but to find happiness in the journey of trying to accomplish.

So, given a focus on life's goals and working toward them rather than property and the control it gives us, the disparity takes on a whole new light.

There is a story told (Taanis 24b) of R' Chanina ben Dosa, a man so holy that the Talmud tells numerous stories of miracles that occured to him. And yet one so poor that a heavenly Voice commented that the whole world was supported by R' Chanina's merit, but he himself lived off a small measure of carob from one Friday to the next.

Eventually his wife just couldn't handle the abject poverty any longer. He agreed to her request that he pray for wealth. A heavenly hand came down and handed them a huge golden table leg. Certainly worth a fortune.

That night, R' Chanina's wife had a dream. They were in heaven, and all the other couples were sitting at three legged tables. Except for them. Their table only had two legs, it couldn't stand.

Realizing that the third leg of their table was the gift they had received, she asked her husband to pray for it to be taken back. And it was.

R' Chaim Vilozhiner associates the three legs of the table in this story with the mishnah (Avos 1:2) about the three pillars of the world: Torah, Divine service, and acts of charity. The Voice said, after all, that R' Chanina supported the world.

The golden leg they received was the one of kindness. Until now, they had reason not to give more charity -- they had nothing more to give. The story as R' Chaim understands it (I wouldn't say this about R' Chanina ben Dosa on my own), suggests that R' Chanina would have been unable to practice charity as he was worthy to had he had the opportunity.

For them, there was more Ben Zoma style osher in not having property than in having it.

So, R' Chanina ben Dosa and his wife was poor.

And yet, because it was what he and his wife's souls needed, it was also exactly the same as everyone else gets.

  • I'm sorry, your answer is completely off the topic. I see that many people took it to discuss poverty but my intention was to seek the explanation of the extreme richness also - where the difference comes from? it's not like all people were average and some poor. – Al Berko Apr 10 at 6:35
  • @AlBerko:the same logic applies. People get the challenges and opportunities for their soul needs. If people came in less variety, our lives would be more similar. – Micha Berger Apr 10 at 13:58
  • "our lives would be more similar" ... and then what? You don't see that difference in people's sizes or appetites or needs, even Achashverosh had one girl per night. However in property - Abraham became all of sudden a billionaire - why? – Al Berko Apr 10 at 19:26
  • Because Avraham’s growth now required him to face the challenges and opportunities of wealth. The same reason why everything in life happens. And thus, very different lives implies that different souls requies very different challenges. – Micha Berger Apr 12 at 5:22
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    What I said was more specific than that. And calls on you to reassess what having a lot means. There was a reason I invoked Ben Zoma. – Micha Berger Apr 14 at 4:25

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