In the back of our minds, it seems as if a lot of us have a desire to be rich. This thought reminds me of Tevye. The central charachter in the Tony (10) Award Winning Play, and Oscar (3) Winning Movie, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye shows us his interesting story about poverty and wealth.
This Broadway musical started in 1964 and was one of the longest running shows. It was the first to surpass 3,000 performances for almost 10 years. The movie version released in 1971 remains a timeless classic; it’s on my top-ten list of best movies and plays of all time. These productions made many people wealthy, yet the story’s focus was on a poor dairyman in early 20th century Russia.
Tevye is a likable character, yet he has complaints about his situation: suffering from poor transportation (lame horse), family discord (daughters not following tradition and a disagreeable wife), oppression (Jewish and political), and modest lifestyle (laborious job and humble belongings). Throughout the film Tevye is constantly conversing with God. It is in this discourse and transparency that we see his internal struggles.
In a couple of scenes he is complaining to God about his suffering and poverty, and he looks up and says:
- “It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death. Oh, dear Lord. You made many many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either. So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune.
- “Money is the world’s curse. May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”
We all think at different times that financial wealth is a solution to our problems, or society’s ills; we are no different from Teyve it seems; I guess that is why I think of him.
What are riches?
If we count the things we have, most of us are really quite rich, especially compared to most other humans on the planet. Tevye had many things to feel bad about, but he had good things to appreciate too.
- Family: he had beautiful, intelligent daughters full of promise who loved their father, and a devoted wife who was good to him, a loving partner in the struggles of life
- Job: he had a job that provided income, even though it was not glamorous or easy, but it was important, filling a vital role for his community
- Friends: he had friends and family surrounding him, providing connection, solace, humor and companionship
- Community: he had the community of faith and neighbors, who helped each other generously through life’s ups and downs
- Shelter: Tevye had a house that he owned, a place to lay his head down at night and to sup with family and friends
- Country: this Tevye didn’t have; his people faced upheaval, something most of us will never face–the forced immigration with only the belongings on our backs, a situation some in Africa and middle-eastern countries face today
- Faith: knowing a God that cared for him, provided guidance in scripture and at temple, promised a great eternity and peace and joy in his heart
- Transportation and pets: he had a cart, a horse and a milk cow to help him get along and to provide for his needs
We could list many more things for Tevye, and for ourselves, with an inestimable total price tag. Most people, even those with less, after adding things up, are indeed rich, again especially by entire world comparatives.
Having a higher income has its benefits, don’t get me wrong, such as better health-care, safer neighborhoods, better schools, and overall healthier environment. Going from higher income to riches has its benefits too, such as better homes, cars and vacations, but there are disadvantages too. There is the worry of keeping the money, living with some fear of having to return to living as those with less means do. Wealthy people often have spoiled children to deal with, and they find that facing financial adversity often upsets marriages and friendships. Living modestly has benefits too–the opportunity to be happy and content with what is really important: character not based on wealth, appreciation for what one has, and the joy of being generous to those around us who are in financial need.
In conclusion, striving to be better, to succeed, to have a business that grows is a good thing, but sometimes the measuring stick is financial. Striving for integrity, strong character, strong community and justice are higher goals, and ones our country’s Founding Fathers held high, something that I am reminded of by mentors of mine.