| Challenges of the Modern World: "They Put Their Hands on our Wealth"|
| by Mordecai Plaut|
Reading the business pages of the secular press can be depressing. Japan is in an economic slump that has lasted more than a decade and cannot shake itself out of it. The worldwide telecommunications industry is in a huge slide downhill: the second largest communications company in the US, Worldcomm, is bankrupt. Lucent, a huge company that was steady as a rock for three generations went from more than 150,000 employees in 2000 to 35,000 in 2003 -- and it is typical of many.
Hundreds of companies, some of which were worth billions just a few months before, have gone bankrupt all over the world. Major corporate officers in America are indicted for theft and fraud. Stock markets are down all over the world. Interest rates have been cut almost everywhere in an effort to stimulate economic activity but, as the months grind by, no recovery appears, or at most only weak signs.
If one gets depressed from reading all this bad news, it shows that he has not learned the lessons of Chanukah, and that the nations of the world unfortunately still have "their hands on our wealth." This what the Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:1) explains that the Greeks succeeded in doing during the Bayis Sheini, among their other pressures that led up to the Chanukah rebellion and ultimate victory. But now, it is not necessary to take to the hills to fight "the many, the impure, the reshoim and the zeidim," but only to wage a struggle in our own hearts to fully absorb the true lesson of the light of Chanukah.
If we let this kind of news depress us, it is a sign that Greek thinking is still in control of our attitude to our wealth. True, many people need to know this information to perform their various duties properly and to make rational and prudent decisions about matters under their control. But if they are firmly and thoroughly aware that their personal status is determined by heavenly decree on Rosh Hashonoh and not by these forces, then the news will not get them down.
If we can manage to break free of this Greek tyranny, we might even be able to see how thoroughly the whole spirit of the modern herd is suffering from the syndrome noted by Koheles (5:9): "One who loves money will never have enough money."
In the modern approach to building wealth, there is no defined end of economic achievement, no point of satiety. There is no final goal. If people have $100,000, they want $200,000. If they have $1,000,000, they want $10,000,000. They are just pursuing growth and more growth -- more and more and more -- with no end. They are depressed when there is no economic growth.
America's yearly bounty is more than $35,000 for every person. Even in Israel it is more than $18,000. This is a level of wealth that was unknown to all of humanity until a very few years ago. The wealthiest emperors did not have kitchens that were as well-appointed as the one in an average modern home, to say nothing of cell phones.
Even from a macro, general perspective, overall unemployment is lower than economists believed possible fifteen years ago, inflation is negligible, more people own their own homes than ever before (68 percent in America), and people have a stunning range of economic opportunities.
The wealth at the disposal of the Torah community allows us to perform mitzvos with hiddurim that were out of the question just a generation ago, and even families in which Torah is the dominant theme of life can maintain, with reasonable effort, a standard of living that is quite respectable.
When this state of affairs enters our consciousness and provides us satisfaction throughout the year, then we know that we have fully liberated our wealth and that the zeidim have been fully given over to the oskei Torosecho.
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