Learning from Passover to get out from the Recession Stresses

    April 2009 Passover Edition            
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Opinion & Society


Connecting Passover and the Recession
(and what we can do about it)

By Harry S. Pearle

Passover is different this year. There are the usual preparations, cleaning and study. But this year it is different. This year we are in a recession, a Great Recession, with no end in sight. There is reason for concern. Stocks are falling, unemployment is mounting and confidence in the government is dropping.

We are all being affected, one way or another. Yet, I have not seen much concern from our Rabbis and on Jewish web sites. There is some mention about coping with the stress, job loss, etc, but it often appears as footnotes, here and there. The dark cloud of this downturn will soon pass, we are told. We just have to wait it out, one year, or two years perhaps. Then, we will be back to 'normal'.

Now Passover is here and we are commanded once again, to tell the story of our Exodus from Mitzraim. The children will say Ma Nishtana. We will speak of the Four Sons. We will welcome Eliyahu the Prophet and say 'Next Year in Jerusalem'. But this year is different and I am wondering if we can make some connection between the reading of the Haggadah at the Seder and the Great Recession which is upon us, now.

My sense is that this recession is not just about financial mismanagement, regulations, Bernie Madoff, and home mortgages. I think it has a lot to with a new birth of freedom (Lincoln). For in the Haggadah we read that we are still enslaved and we hope to be set free. I think the current crisis has to do with our enslavement to money. We enslave ourselves by working in jobs for the sake of the most income and security.

To set ourselves free from our emotional attachment to money may require an act of faith, as we open ourselves up to growth and uncertainty. To set ourselves free may not be easy. 'All beginnings are difficult' (Mekilta). But we have our Jewish faith and our Torah. In a sense, the Great Recession may provide an incentive for change and spiritual growth.

President Obama, in a way, reminds me of Moshe. His people were slaves, but he was not. He was privileged to go to the finest schools and reach the top. He won the election with 'Change we can believe in and change we need'. Obama is surely no Moshe Rabainu, but maybe he can help to lead America and the world out of this Mizraim (Egypt) and toward a new enlightenment.

Perhaps history is repeating itself. And during the Great Depression of the 1930s there was another Exodus. Poverty and high unemployment liberated the people to pursue new careers and lifestyles in new locations. Perhaps then the people saw a new vision of the future (like from Sinai), with the coming of radio, telephones, movies, automobiles, etc.

The question now, is what we can do about this economic crisis. Einstein said that 'in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity'. So, how can we turn this crisis into opportunity? Einstein also said that 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them'.

Perhaps the Haggadah can help us. It suggests to me that we turn to our Torah for guidance and inspiration. We may need to change our thinking. Money, in itself, may not be the be all and end all. Pouring more money on the problem may not be enough. We may have to make spiritual investments, too.

In the front of the RCA building at Rockefeller Center in New York City there is a saying from Isaiah 33:6. It reads: 'Wisdom and Knowledge Shall Be the Stability of Thy Times'. (This is a loose translation from Isaiah). It might be worth considering in these difficult times.

We have a Torah of 'Wisdom and Knowledge'. We can dedicate ourselves to more Torah study, more Avodah and more Chesed (Avos 1:2). We can turn to the internet for a new vision of hope and opportunity. We can explore new careers, new training, more in tune with our abilities and dreams. We can encourage the government to proclaim a 'new birth of freedom' as Lincoln did. Obama, Netanyahu, and all the leaders at every level can say: 'Yes, we can'.

Chag Somayach. This Year in Jerusalem


from the April 2009 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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