My wife and I have bought a few homes in our lives. Each purchase probably represented the largest purchase we made until that point in our lives, and the down payment represented much of our savings. However, we, like many others, bit the bullet and made the purchase on the assumption that our income would eventually enable us to pay the mortgage. Sometimes we made money on the sale of the house and sometimes we lost money. Over the years we have become philosophical about ups and downs in money matters. We cannot control the housing market and, in the final analysis, God is in charge and whatever happens is for the best even if we don’t always see it in the short term. Nonetheless, the purchase of a home can be a stressful moment in the life of a family.
Nowhere is this more evident than in an excruciatingly painful scene in Boiler Room, a coarse, profanity-laden look at the world of young stock brokers who cold call customers with promises of big returns on their investments. One call goes to Harry Reynard, a family man who gives $50,000, his entire savings for a house, to Seth Davis in return for what is essentially worthless stock. We watch in agony as Seth lies to his client in order to make the sale. Harry buys the dream and loses his money and family in the process. It is a gut-wrenching scene to watch.
Boiler Room, based on real-life accounts of stockbrokers, is very disturbing. Young men are schooled in how to lie to clients in order to make big profits for themselves. There is a culture of conspicuous consumption at the firm. Successful brokers buy expensive cars, the latest techie gadgets, and have neither heart nor soul. They make a pact with the devil and revel in it at the unsuspecting client’s expense.
Seth Davis, the narrator of the story, is the son of a judge, and even though his relationship with his father is turbulent, he understands the ethical problems with his new job. He is torn between financial success and moral responsibility. Ultimately, it is the relationship with his father that moves him to try to make things financially right for Harry, his desperate client, and ethically right for himself.
Boiler Room reminds us of the perils of living a life where the only goal is the acquisition of more and more things. People become objects to exploit, not good friends and neighbors. The Ethics of the Fathers tell us that the truly rich man is the one who is content with his lot, who does not spend night and day trying to amass wealth. Wealth in Judaism is a means, not the end goal. Wealth enables us to help the needy, to welcome guests to our table, and to support community institutions and worthy causes of all types. Wealth is to be shared, not hoarded. The Book of Ecclesiastes states: “the lover of money will never be satisfied with money; a lover of abundance has no wheat.” The acquisition of worldly goods is ultimately futile. Only good deeds accompany a man to the grave.
There is another lesson in Boiler Room. Harry purchases the worthless stock without consulting his wife. Our Sages tell us, in reference to a quandary of Abraham, that he should consult with his wife Sarah. The spouse who loves you and has your best interest at heart should not be ignored when making major decisions in life. It is important to “listen to her voice” as the Sages say. A pow-wow with a loved one reinforces peace in the home.