Rabbi Grossman sees McMansions as a sign of status and wonders how much money their owners gave to tzedakah, as opposed to pouring it into gold bathroom fixtures–a fair question.
In fact, Judaism is not an ascetic religion and encourages us to live comfortably and enjoy ourselves. The key is to do it with a certain degree of moderation.
When people move into McMansions in planned developments surrounded by people who, at least socio-economically, largely resemble them it is very easy to lose the sense of proportion that’s the key to moderation. An indoor jacuzzi? Why not! Stainless steel outdoor appliances for the patio area? Everybody else is doing it!
When one lives only with wealthy people, insulated from the wider world, it’s easy to lose that sense of proportion or connection to the wider community. I don’t mean to romanticize the shtetls or the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side, but at least people bumped into each other on the street corner or jostled elbows at a crowded market. They became more aware of each other and each other’s needs and concerns. Now we have our own largely separate worlds, in which we lose touch with the wider reality of those far less fortunate than ourselves. Now we’re suddenly spending hundreds of dollars a day on yoga and aromatherapy for our pets at doggie spas–what happened to that sense of proportion?
Chapter 25 of Leviticus demanded periodic reshuffling of property in the Land of Israel as a reminder that the land didn’t really belong to us–it was a gift from God. We were reminded that our wealth was not our own to use only for our own gratification–that it was a blessing which we had an obligation to share with our neighbor.
The key is to be open enough to the world to appreciate and be grateful for the things we do enjoy, and to seek to extend those same benefits to others. When we each live behind the doors of our own gilded castles, this lesson becomes all too easy to forget.