. Lesson from the Economic Crisis
“From a narrow place I call out to you, oh G-d; answer me from an expansive place.” – The first of seven verses resided before the blowing of the shofar.
We are experiencing an economic crisis. Some of us have endured difficult times. We all hope and pray that this year brings all of us much success and abundant prosperity. Yet we ought not to allow the financial challenges of these past years to slip away without teaching us one important lesson about life.
I will illustrate it with a story:
About ten years ago a rich Israeli businessman who we will call Jerry was on the top of the world. He was a multi-millionaire, toured the globe enjoying the best hotels, restaurants, cars and anything that money could buy. He was a self-made-man who loved his creator (i.e. himself). He was arrogant, cold, tough, and boatful. But a number of years ago, like many others, he made some big investment mistakes, and began to lose his fortune. In just months every penny he had saved and slaved for was gone and he was a pauper. And after he liquidated all his assets and even sold his house to pay his debts he still owed 17,000 shekels to the Israeli Revenue Service.
He asked an old friend for a loan. He went up to his friend’s office at the 49th floor of the Azrieli center in Tel Aviv. His friend gave him 17,000 shekel and the man left the office.
With nothing better to do he decided to walk around and have a look. After a few minutes of strolling he noticed a set of stairs leading up to a large metal door, which he ascended and opened the door. A cold autumn wind blew into his face. It was the door leading to the roof, 'why not', he thought to himself as he went out.
Ah it was beautiful! From here he could see far into the distance; the Judean hills in one direction, the wide, vast Mediterranean sea on the other. He just stood there, thinking and trying to enjoy the weather when suddenly a loud thud behind him broke his thoughts; a quick glance revealed that the wind slammed the door shut. He decided it was time to go back.
He went to the door and tried to open it but it seemed to be locked. He tried peering from all sorts of angles to figure out the latch but he couldn't. So he began to pound on the door and when that didn't work, to kick at it. For sure someone would hear.
But no one did. The wind was getting stronger and colder now and he wasn't really dressed for this. He looked around for some object to hit the door with, to attract attention and get out but there was none. He still had a good hour before dark; people were probably still in their offices so he pounded, kicked and yelled but there was no response.
When he took out his black berry he discovered that the battery was dead. Totally dead! Of all times for this to happen!
But he didn't lose his composure. He had to work fast. He went to the edge of the building, peered over the small protective fence and began waiving his arms and yelling to the people far below which, after just five minutes, he realized was totally futile. There was no way that anyone would notice him from 49 floors below. But he had to remain calm. It was his only chance. Soon it would be dark and really cold. And there was nowhere to get protection from the wind, which was getting colder by the minute.
Suddenly he had an idea. The money! He had 17,000 shekels in his pocket. For sure if he threw a 200 shekel note down people would look up to see where it was coming from… and see him.
He pulled out a stack of bills, removed one, looked over the fence and threw it. He watched as it floated crazily in the wind and finally, after several minutes, landed on the other side of the street, someone stopped, bent down, picked it up and continued walking.
This time he took out five bills, 1,000 altogether and let them drop… but it was the same thing. No one noticed them until they hit the ground, then they picked them up, looked around for more and kept going.
He knew what he had to do! It was his only chance! He took all the money from his pocket, tore the band that held it neatly in a pack and with a yell, threw it below as hard as he could. With his last optimism he gazed as it scattered far below him. He removed his shirt and began waving it frantically for someone to notice. But he couldn't believe his eyes; not only did no one look up or hear his cries for help; they were all arguing down there about who saw which bill first!
He looked around on the roof, the sun was setting, it was still light enough to see, but he saw nothing……. only the sky.
His eyes filled with tears, suddenly he felt small, he needed help; he was sure that G-d would help him. The sky said so. A second ago he didn't even believe there was such a thing but now it was obvious… he wasn't alone. He yelled out, "HaShem! HaShem! (G-d)…. help! Help me!"
Suddenly his eye caught a medium sized sack of small pebbles. Why didn't he see it before? But there it was! He dragged it to the fence, took a handful, said a prayer, threw it over the side and began waving his arms and looking down again.
Sure enough, this time it worked! People began cursing; looking up pointing and screaming at him. Probably all of them called the police because in just moments the door burst open, police with guns drawn stormed through, put handcuffs on him and took him to the station. He was saved!
It took some serious explaining. He was lucky that no one was really hurt from his pebbles and, of course, he lost the 17,000 shekel and still owed the taxes. But after a few days they accepted his story and let him out.
At that moment he discovered a deep lesson: the people on the street, were just like him. All the time money was raining down the people never looked up… they looked only down, for more money. But as soon as they started feeling the pebbles hurting them they looked up to see where they were coming from.
How true of life. When we have everything we need, we sometimes take it for granted and we never look up. We can become insensitive to the plight of others; we feel we don’t need anybody. We are on top of the world. Only when we feel the “pebbles” falling on us, does it make us look up… look up beyond ourselves… see that there is something that transcends our egos, there is a higher source, to whom we are responsible.
This is the meaning of the above verse: We tend to call out to G-d “min hamatzar,” from a narrow place. Yet we ask of Him to answer us with expansiveness, with prosperity. Once we have learnt the lesson, let us all be blessed with tremendous wealth, so we can utilize the Divine gift to help people.