Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Financial Crisis and G-D

Over the last two days of Jewish holiday--Rosh Hashana, the birthday of mankind and the beginning of the year 5769, we have spent many hours in synagogue focusing on God's role as sovereign of the universe, and determiner of the fate of each of us. We heard hundreds of blasts from the shofar, the ram's horn that calls us to repentance and is a means of connection with God (as the sound of life and death, as the noise accompanying His delivery of commandments to the Jews gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai).

At the same time, we entered into the incommunicado time of the holiday--no TV, radio, phones or other contact with the wider world--tense with the drop in the stock market of 777 points and the rejection of a bail-out package by congress.

Our friend, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, wrote on the eve of this holiday of introspection and recognition of God's kingship that every "shmitta" year, the seven year agricultural cycle that occurred this year, God seems to punch us to attention with a huge financial whammy. Last time, Rabbi Blech himself lost his fortune in the dot-com bubble burst. This time, we've got Wall Street meltdown. Seven year cycle. Stock market down by 777.

Seven, btw, is the number that represents completion for man. Have you ever considered why the week is seven days? It could just as easily have been five or four. It's seven because that's the way God created the world, in a cycle of seven.

So, here I was Tuesday night on Rosh Hashana, in the evening after our holiday meal (and after doing the dishes) and I pick up a financial section of the newspaper, I think it was the Wall Street Journal, and in the column on the left front top, I see something that floored me.

The article began something like, "Is it time we start to think about G-D?" For the uninitiated, people who are quite religious, in an effort to not even take the English word for the Lord in vain, will write His title as G-d, omitting the middle "o." So you can imagine my shock when a secular newspaper begins its article on our economic collapse asking if we need Him.

"With so many indicators seeming to point to G-D, we would do well to look to the flaws that led to this situation." Indeed. I have many sins for which I must better atone. "Some may say it's premature to consider G-D, but many experts are warning that unless drastic action is taken, our entire economy will surely suffer radically."

And so it is. We stood in shul pledging our fealty to God, beseeching Him to grant us life and the positive resolution to our problems. I personally had to consciously resist asking for help for our financial system, feeling that I better concentrate on my own worthiness for another year of well-being. And yet, there was a prayer for sustenance. And a prayer for our government. We need to better acknowledge the true source of our success, and not get too confident, secure or cocky.

I kept reading the article, feeling that it had been placed there just for me, to concentrate my thoughts beyond the headlines. And as I kept reading, I found out something wild: the article wasn't about God at all--G-D stands for "Great Depression." Is it too early to start talking about another Great Depression? I don't know. But it's certainly the right time for Jews to be thinking about God.

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