Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

The Financial Crisis: A Warning Shot?

I

Rashi (Breishis 1:1) tells us that Hashem created the heavens and earth for the sake of Torah and Am Yisroel, both of which are called "reishis". Bechiras Yisroel, i.e. the fact that Am Yisroel is the chosen nation, is thus emphasized in the very first passuk in the Torah. Some associate the notion of bechiras Yisroel with a superiority complex, but that can not be correct since we are taught that all human beings are beloved and created in Hashem's image (Avos 3:18). Some Jews don't want to accept the idea of bechiras Yisroel due to an inferiority complex. Their unjustifiably guilty conscience leads them to believe that Am Yisroel has no right to Eretz Yisroel, thus conceding to the claim of the nations of the world that we are bandits (see Rashi 1:1). For this reason the Torah's first passuk teaches that Hashem created the world and has the right to give Eretz Yisroel to whomever He sees fit (Rashi 1:1. See Cheit Hameraglim: Then and Now).

Bechiras Yisroel is defined by our receiving the Torah and being called the children of Hashem (Avos ibid.). Hashem's arrangement of world events rotates around us, just as parents arrange activities, which may affect many people, around the needs of their child. As a result, we bear a greater measure of responsibility for world events. We should all have a "responsibility complex", as the Rambam writes:

One should view the entire world half innocent and half guilty. If he sins, he tips the scale and causes destruction. If he does a mitzvah, he saves the entire world. - Hilchos Teshuva, 3:4

While this is true for every person, a Jew bears a greater measure of responsibility.

II

"I know that it is because of me that this great tempest is upon you" (Yona 1:12). Although many lives were in danger, Yona realized that he was responsible. The Chafetz Chaim applied this principle to the floods and earthquakes of his time. These natural disasters, which killed thousands in faraway lands, were wakeup calls to do teshuva (Kovetz Maamarim by Rav Elchanan Wasserman, p.26).

"I have destroyed nations, their towers have become desolate....I said 'Just fear Me, accept mussar'" (Tz'fania 3:6,7). Following Yona's example, we should view desolation of all types as a charge to accept mussar, i.e. to recognize that Hashem is sending us a message that we dare not ignore. "If you say that the distress is a coincidence, I will punish you even more severely" (Vayikra 26:27). Hashem causes distress so that we should do teshuva. If we don't, we are cruel and cause greater suffering (Rambam Hilchos Taanios 1:3).

"A land (i.e. Eretz Yisroel) that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out." (Devarim 11:12). He seeks out none but it, and through that seeking out, He seeks out all the other lands along with it (Rashi). The world's rain, the source of financial success, is determined by Hashem based on Eretz Yisroel, whose rainfall, in turn, depends upon our observing mitzvos (11:13-17). When a financial setback is decreed upon the Jews, a world economic crisis takes place. Hashem hides the fact that we are punished by causing a wider crisis (Kovetz Maamarim p. 142 based on Tz'fania ibid). If we accept the reality of our central role in the course of world events, the losses we experience from the world-wide financial crisis will serve as our punishment. Otherwise, we may face additional, particularly Jewish, crises. This would be similar to the double punishment that we suffered in the past (Yeshaya 40:2, Kovetz Maamarim ibid).

While we have no Navi to tell us which aveiros caused the current financial crisis, consider the following:

"One who amasses wealth unjustly will loose that wealth in the middle of his days" (Yirmiyahu 17:11) … [this includes] dishonesty, interest, price-gouging, unfair competition, etc. This also includes money gained from chilul Shabbos and yom tov and from bitul Torah … [it even includes] money which should have been donated to causes that we are obligated to support, such as the poor or to the support of Torah… - Kovetz Maamarim p. 144

We may want to carefully reflect on all aspects of our financial lives, be it making sure that we scrupulously adhere to all simanim of Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, be it examining how we allocate our financial resources.

As we begin Breishis in turbulent times, we must remember that the world was created for Am Yisroel and Torah. This fact imposes a great responsibility upon us, one which we ignore at our peril. If, however, we accept this responsibility, we can work towards living up to our bechira and hastening the ultimate redemption.

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