The current and therefore the most recent question posed on the website called “On Faith: A Conversation about Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn” is this:
Greed, one of the seven deadly sins, is seen as a major factor in the housing market crash and the oil price spike. Can greed ever be justified morally or religiously?
Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:
If greed is indeed a deadly sin, it would explain why it is that people die.
Greed seems to be everywhere we turn in the world today; one does not have to look to oil tycoons and big banks to find people who are driven by this vice.
It spans all generations, from babies who seek more toys and more cookies, to senior citizens who try to accrue wealth far beyond that which they will need in this lifetime.
Although we are very quick to recognize greed in others, it is important that we define exactly what it is.
In my view, greed means wishing or grasping for things that are beyond one’s needs.
Thus it seems that greed is a universal desire that is very deeply embedded in the human spirit.
By this definition, greed also means that the desire cannot be justified.
It is not the size of the desire that categorizes it as a greedy one; it is the fact that it is beyond the measures of the person who desires it.
So although greed is universal, it is defined differently for each human being.
And to some extent, greed implies a need to take things from others, though that is not to say that Robinson Crusoe did not experience feelings of greed on his desert island.
Is greed ever justifiable?
Perhaps in the case of one who is greedy to do more good deeds or attain higher intellectual goals, but even then, there is something unpleasant about stealing opportunities for kind deeds or attaining knowledge for the sake of being smarter than someone else.
If a person wants to secure himself a seat in Heaven, he must realize that it need not be a throne too large for his own size.
From “On Faith: A Conversation about Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn”