Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 15 Stinginess


Back to Chapter 14 about generosity

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


Stinginess is the antithesis of generosity. According to Tullius it is a malicious desire to acquire and to increase one's wealth whether honestly or dishonestly. The stingy person will prefer to lose his assets and see them rot rather than give them to others. The trait of stinginess is much worse than squandering, since the latter is more akin to generosity, being based on giving, whereas stinginess is rooted in refraining from giving.

In addition, the squanderer is more popular than the miser; and it is easier for the squanderer to mend his ways than for the miser to start to hand out.

A wise man said that the miser is one who holds on to what he should part with, whereas the squanderer parts with what he should have held on to. Another wise man said that every bad trait has its limit, except miserliness, which has no limits nor end.

Our Sages of blessed memory said that in his lifetime man never satisfies more than half his desires. A wise man said that all bad traits wear out with time, as opposed to greed which renews itself daily.

We might compare the miser to the amphibian called toad which eats and subsists on dust and is always worried that it may run short of it and therefore never eats as much as it needs to satisfy itself.

King Solomon says (Eccl. 6, 1-2): "There is an evil which I have seen in the world and it occurs frequently among man: when the Lord gives a person wealth […] and does not let him enjoy it etc.". And he also says (ibid. 2, 18): "And I loathed all my toil […] which I would leave to a person who will succeed me, and who knows etc.".

Pythagoras compares this to the whip of a donkey, which benefits its rider and harms the donkey itself, just as stinginess will be to the detriment of the miser and to the benefit of his heirs.

Seneca said: "It is better to command money rather than be its servant. And after the lust for money has prevailed, friendship is lost". He further said: "There is a class of persons who benefit others only by their death: these are the foolish and the misers. And it is preferable to respect a man without wealth than to respect the wealth without the man".

Priscian (Priscianus) said: "As long as rain falls on the sand, it becomes hardened; in the same way, as long as the miser continues to increase his wealth, his miserliness will increase. Thus, he will not hesitate to sow the land in order to reap double profits, but he will refrain from giving to his fellow man since the benefits are invisible to him" and [Juvenal said] that money does not belong to the miser but the miser belongs to the money. Someone else said: "The miser shall be called an idol worshipper since just as one worships idols made of silver and gold, so the miser knows no other deity than money".

It says in the Torah (Exodus 20, 20): "You shall not make for yourselves gods of silver or gold".

Seneca said: "Miser! What benefit or advantage will you enjoy from your silver and gold? Were coins not given to you to spend? If the Lord had wished them to be buried in the ground, He would have left them there in the first place".

Rabbi Ibn Gevirol wrote that the remedy for this ill is that he should accustom himself to be generous with his close connections until he will gradually extend his generosity to those further from him.

We have found related in literature the story of an extreme miser who in his great avarice amassed countless silver, gold and coins. When he fell ill and was approaching death, he ordered that shovels full of gold and coins of silver be brought before him and caressed them and said: "Help me! Help me! Protect me! Protect me! Cure me from my illness!" When he saw that this was to no avail, he called for his sons and told them: "My sons: you know all the trouble I took to amass all these and because of my great desire for them I had no benefit even in my little finger; and now, in my time of trouble, they will not save me. I therefore command you to spend them on proper things, since even if I were to live one thousand years, I could not change my habits due to my protracted addiction to this bad trait. And now, put into your service what I have served all the days of my life".

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 15 about stinginess and greed is found at pages 31-33.