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investment advice


Shabbat Mishpatim 5778 | February 10, 2018
Would you rather hit a speed bump or ride a roller coaster? This is how some analysts are talking about the ups and downs of the Stock Market right now. As the Wall Street Journal reports, adherents of the speed-bump view of things point to a fundamentally excellent economic climate while roller coaster theorists worry about a variety of warning signs in the economy.
So, this morning, as you ponder speed bumps and roller coasters, I have some investment advice for you. (I bet you didn’t expect to hear that in synagogue today!)
During the Great Depression, back in February 1936, The Orthodox Union news wrote, “We believe that the rabbi should not stoop to the discussion of economic problems. He is not a teacher of economics, but of religion.”
I agree. Rest assured, my advice has nothing to do with the Stock Market or investment strategies. My advice begins with a definition of spiritual wealth.
Spirituality is an expression of our deepest values, the ideals we personally hold sacred. A spiritual life is rich in emotional strength. For a spiritually alive individual, spirituality is an introspective quest to live meaningfully by embracing a higher purpose.
Next, in turbulent times and at all times, I advise mindfulness. “Don’t let the future steal your present.” To the best of your ability, strive to be aware of and in the moment. Ever been in a conversation sensing the person you’re speaking with isn’t really paying attention? It doesn’t feel good. It’s isolating. Ever seen a couple sitting together and instead of talking they’re both staring down at their phones? There they are with someone else, alone together.
Our liturgical calendar calls today Shabbat Shekalim. The name comes from a command God gives through Moses to ancient Israel to take a census of adult males. To conduct the count, each individual contributes a half-shekel coin to their ancient community.
What does this ancient poll tax symbolize? It’s an investment in community. As a foundation for spiritual expression, Jewish tradition teaches us. First, we must invest ourselves personally in a community. I don’t mean contribute funds. I mean share in the richness of life’s experiences with others.
The ancient poll tax is also a statement about individual worth. Each half-shekel is an incomplete gift. It requires a companion, the gift of another person to be whole. When we invest ourselves in a community, we act as one part of a larger whole, as one with and among many, as one vital person present for others, as they are present for us.
This past week a number of us learned about some of the ideas behind Jewish life cycle observances. Jewish values urge us to celebrate the personal, precious moments of our lives in public, celebrants and witnesses together affirming a vision for life and values for living. We live our lives and mark their sacred moments in the context of our families, our community, and the Jewish people. A Jewish spiritual life is not lived alone. We Jews find God between and among us at every stage and phase we meet.
As Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin explains, “In Jewish life, the individual is most powerfully gifted with identity, purpose and support when accompanied by the group. And the group is renewed, rewarded, and reaffirmed every time someone chooses to walk its path.”
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai said, “the payment of the half-shekel is amends for the community’s violations of the Ten Commandments. Every person puts in ten gerah, which equal a half-shekel.” What is the meaning of Rabbi Yohanan’s teaching? In a community, all of us are responsible even if only some of us are guilty. All of us are accountable to the values we affirm together.
In a larger group of people there will be some I like and others I don’t. I’ll encounter life experiences unfamiliar to me, and opinions different from mine. The group will comfort me. They may also challenge me.
Though I don’t want to sacrifice my unique personality, I hate to think living out my individuality means living without sensitivity to and obligation for other people. Or I’ll find personal fulfillment without a culture and calendar in common with others, a larger context for celebrating who I am and why what I do is significant.
If I live only aware of my preferences and priorities, if I don’t share the joys and sorrows of my life with others, personally, I worry about becoming selfish. I might come to think that I matter more than I really do. Who would there be to remind me that self-interest isn’t always in my best interest, or in anyone else’s either?
Here’s my best advice, no matter the Stock Market’s highs and lows, no matter whatever else you are experiencing. Go beyond and get outside of yourself. Love, heal, rejoice, and give. Help others with the difficulties of their lives. Find purpose for your own in the values and memories of the community – be it a group, a people, or a nation – to whom you attach yourself.
Many of you here understand this. You live this. You believe this and invest in the value of Jewish community. Even so, all of us need to remember. No one of us is truly independent or self-sufficient. We cannot fulfill all of our needs and desires by ourselves. And even if we could, we’d still crave something more.
Would you rather hit a speed bump or ride a roller coaster? The many communities of our lives will slow us down at times, causing us to pause and reflect. As well, they’ll always be with us during our ups and downs. This is my investment advice. Recall the meaning of ancient Israel’s half-shekel contributions. Invest in community and share the richness of life’s experiences with others.
© 2018 Rabbi Ronald J. Shulman
Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784