Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
The Prohibition to Have Too Much Money | Parshas Shoftim
Devarim, 17:15-17: “You shall place upon yourself a King…Only, he will not have too many horses, and he will not return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, and HaShem said to you, you will not add to return in this way anymore. And he will not have too many wives and he will not turn his heart, and he will not greatly increase silver and gold for himself.”
Targum Yonasan, Devarim, 17:17: “…And he will not take for himself silver and gold so that his heart will not be haughty and he will not rebel against G-d in Heaven.”
The Torah commands us to appoint a King. The Torah then outlines a number of Mitzvos unique to the King: He is forbidden from acquiring too many horses; He is forbidden from having too many wives; And he is forbidden from having too much silver and gold. The Torah gives a reason for the first two Mitzvos – the prohibition to have too many horses is because Egypt was the main provider of horses and if the King would buy too many horses, then people would have to return to Egypt, and it is forbidden to return to Egypt. The reason for the prohibition to have too many wives is that they will turn the husband away from HaShem.
However, the Torah does not give a reason for the prohibition to have too much silver and gold. There are two main opinions among the commentaries as to the reason for this Mitzva: The Targum Yonasan, Daas Zekeinim and Sefer HaChinuch all explain that the reason is because having excess money, in addition to having so much power, will lead to the King becoming arrogant and consequently, he will turn away from HaShem. According to this explanation, the Mitzva does not apply to a regular person because they do not have as much power as the King, therefore having an excess of money is less likely to lead them to becoming arrogant.
Other commentaries explain that the problem with having too much money is that the King will be tempted to impose heavy taxes on the people in order to acquire riches, which will lead to an overwhelming burden on the nation. This indeed was the case with Shlomo HaMelech, and it resulted in the splitting of the Kingdom. This took place when the people demanded that his successor, Rechavam, lighten the burden. He refused, and consequently, they rebelled and made a new King. This reason clearly only applies to the King, but it is not relevant to regular people who cannot tax others.
The Ran adds that according to this explanation, if the King acquired money from conquests, there is no prohibition for him to keep the spoils for his own personal wealth, as it will not lead to the King overly taxing the nation. In contrast, according to the other opinion that the wealth will lead to arrogance, the King is forbidden from keeping the captured money for himself, rather he must give it to the National Treasury.
The question remains, as to why the Torah itself gave reasons for the prohibitions of having too many wives and too much money, but did not offer a reason for the prohibition of having too much money? Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the love of money is worse than any other desire. In addition, one can never be satisfied with money, and will always want more, as it Shlomo HaMelech says himself in Koheles, “One who loves money will never be satisfied by money.” Accordingly, the Torah says that having too much money in and of itself is highly problematic, even without any other consequences. In contrast, having too many horses or wives is not necessarily intrinsically negative, but only because of the subsequent damage that can result from an excess of them.
The question arises as to if the Prohibition to have too much silver and gold is limited to the King. According to the reason that it will lead the King to overly tax the people, it clearly does not apply to others. However, according to the reason that it will lead a person to becoming overly arrogant, then perhaps that applies to every person. One could argue that it still only applies to a King because he is already in a position of great power and honor, and so is more prone to arrogance, whereas a regular person is at less risk. However, R’Meyuchas writes that the reason also applies to a regular person, and he cites as support, the Passuk in Koheles: “Guarded wealth for its owner is bad”. Accordingly, he asserts that one should only gather as much money as one needs to live.
Regardless of whether the halacha follows this opinion, it is certainly an important warning that striving to earn more money that one needs to live, carries with it great risks. It can lead to arrogance and as Rav Hirsch pointed out, one who loves money will always want more and such a person will likely focus on material pursuits to the detriment of spiritual pursuits.
-Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen