Financial Anxieties

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If you are suffering from today’s financial crisis, here is a profound piece of counsel from this week’s Torah portion.

A great flood was about to arrive on Earth. Noah is told by G-d: “Build yourself an ark… come into the ark together with your family,” and this ark will protect you from the flood.

“Teivah” is the Hebrew word used in the Torah for ark. “Teivah” also means “word.” Says the Baal Shem Tov: “Build yourself an ark” – enter into protective words of Torah and prayer – which protect you from the raging floodwaters of financial anxieties that each of us have.

This advice may seem counterintuitive. When you are suffering financially it sounds more practical to intensify your efforts to find supplemental income: A new job, new types of investments. When money is lost it seems that the most logical thing to do is to become more aggressive in your pursuit of money, not to escape behind spiritual walls.

But think again. From where do we derive ultimate security? Can a structure rest comfortably on a shifting foundation? Would you feel safe being embraced by transient love? Can a child build confidence with absentee parents? Can we be secure with something that is fundamentally insecure?

True security can only come from something that is not temporary; safety and trust is built on that which is solid and permanent.

Everything in this material universe is intrinsically impermanent. We are mortals living in an ever-changing and ever-aging world. Everything physical erodes, ages and dies. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Our looks, our youth, our food, our belongings, and yes – our money – all get depleted.

I always found it ironic to call those financial vehicles – which are inherently temporal and fraught with risk (as every prospectus legally reminds us) – with the name… “securities.”

With everything material, including money, being so transitory, how can we expect to find security there? Yet we return there again and again. Is it because we have become addicted, or because we don’t know of any other alternatives?

The mere fact that in times of financial anxiety most of us would gravitate back to more aggressive money pursuits is the clearest demonstration how addicted we have become to money, and how we feel that it is the only panacea to relieve our anxiety. However, the rule is that anything that brings you anxiety can never relieve your anxiety. But this is a rule of logic, not of emotions. As much as it may make sense that a “drug” will not solve your problems, the addict returns to the drug again and again. Because life is not about sense; most of our decisions are emotional ones in the first place.

As one shtetl drunk once said: You drink to drown your tzoros (problems). Then you find out that tzoros float…

And thus comes the brilliant but simple advice of this week’s Torah portion: “Build yourself an ark… come into the ark together with your family.”

When the floodwaters of financial pressures and anxieties are raging and threaten to drown you, build a protective “ark” and enter into it with your family. Surround yourself with sacred words, insulate yourself with spiritual values and ideas.

Take time each day, each week, on weekends – designate any time that works – gather your family together and study some Torah, read a spiritual thought together, pray together.

This is not escapism. This is being pragmatic, and empowering. It is acknowledging that when the unpredictable floods are going wild, you have the power to create an oasis – a protective womb – that lifts you and your loved ones to an eternal place, which shelters you from the storm.

Not just shelter that avoids danger, but a space that brings permanent comfort being that it connects you to the immortal – the holy words that surround your life. So that even when you “leave the ark” and return to the material world you have become somewhat immunized, no longer so vulnerable to the inherent insecurities of everything corporeal.

Build yourself an ark. Enter into it. Feel nurtured.

A simple piece of advice. But one that can change your life forever.

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Richard
12 years ago

Thank you for this.

Richard

Tatiana
12 years ago

Thank you, you are absolutely right.

God is everywhere we are but we need to cultivate the relationship. It is hard work. On the lighter side, I remember Diogenes saying: Omnia mea mecum porto. All I own I carry with me. .I dont believe he meant God but I do….and that is my life, Gods greatest gift, and Gods gift is gods essence…now it takes some intent to recognize and see the sacred in the prophane. I am still better at thinking than doing, the doing is wanting more of my participation. i agree with you on that, ACTION is the healer and the need of mortals in their search for meaning.

Have a good day,
Tatiana

Nejume Foundation
12 years ago

BEAUTIFUL, THANK YOU, I WILL TRANSFER TO MANY.

Julia Farber
12 years ago

beautiful!

Henry Betschel
12 years ago

I follow your weekly articles with great interest and benefit! On this occasion I wonder if you could elaborate a little more on the etymology (sorry)of the word ark.I can only find – box, chest – but not word.Since the analogy of Noah entering
the word of Torah is critical to the point,I am keen to validate the application of teivah. Your clarification is eagerly anticipated.

HJB

IRENE BRUNSTEIN
9 years ago

Thank you for reminding us of the truth. We are a culture addicted to money, and the diminishment thereof does not diminish us but the loss of connection to the torah does.

Dimitar
9 years ago

Brilliant, profound, practical and useful, as always..
Thank you, Rabbi!

Chaim
9 years ago

And if one prays and studies Torah regularly and still feels anxiety, what then? Is it simply a matter of increasing study and prayer and/or improving the quality?

Perhaps the answer — in addition to learning and praying with proper intent — is study and prayer combined with action (Pirkei Avos). This is more efficacious than money pursuits alone, because 1)study and prayer enhance ones faith and decrease anxiety, enabling one to see or act on appropriate oppurtunities with a clearer head; and also 2) by connecting our actions with the ultimate source (G-d) we are better insuring our success. And if things do not work out as we had hoped, we still have the insurance that G-d will not abandon us, but will guide and protect us.

natasha steyn
9 years ago

Hi Rabbi,

Truer words could not be spoken. Before I took career life seriously I would live on what I had and always trusted things would be okay. I was a big picture girl. Then I started working and earning good money and I also developed deep insecurity every time my boss walked by, anxiety at night about work projects and general frustration. Earning money and getting used to all the stuff it could buy made me deeply insecure cause now i feel I cant live without it. Just like you say, our source of security is actually the biggest thing that makes us insecure. Thank you, I now I have much to think about 🙂

9 years ago

I will add something that I have seen from my life.
Every word is creative because G-d always listen and grants every prayer, our role in this gift is to allow the receiving of it. Most people today pray to G-d but what there are really saying in the prayer is the voice of lack. in one hand they pray for abundance and in the other they feel lack and frustration. This is why G-d gave us the gift of emotion. The emotion is our guidance system that shows us in which direction we are, allowing or disallowing. So the real prayer is the way you feel while you are being it. This is why a prayer in the form of gratitude is the correct prayer. Thank you G-d for…
G-ds love is unconditional and will always grant your wish and what will determine if you receive it or not is you.
This is why everytime I pray to G-d I feel joy and I feel the love of G-d flows through me.

Jeff
9 years ago

Some good points… also from the Comments section about the power of Pirkei Avos. I often find people only give kavanah (intention/focus) to P.A. during the springtime – too little, in my opinion.

P.A. is so beneficial in our daily minhagim (customs) and supportive in developing good midos (character-refinement practices) that we need to give it kavanah daily, in addition to the already daily practice of reading Chayeinu (a weekly book in English and Hebrew containing Torah, Rashi study, etc); Hayom Yom (The Daily – a daily insight from one of the Lubavitcher Rebbes); and Ch.iT.aS (a book containing Ch.umash-Torah in book form, T.anya-Chassidic mysticism, and T.efilin-psalms).

Not mentioned: the power of Tehillim – too many beneficial Tehillim to mention!

Lastly, non-proficiency in the Hebrew language is a barrier for MANY (actually, Id say most) Yidden to connect to Torah, unfortunately. More efforts need to be made in this area. Its a serious problem taken for granted by most Jews whom grew up more observant (proficiency in the Hebrew language seems second nature for them).

…And for us secular Jews, whom grew up with minimal observance (such as myself), but, now, in adulthood want to be more connected to and have more ownership of our heritage/who we are? Orthodox rabbis I have spoken with say that taking Conversational Hebrew classes wont help, but offer no solutions than just come to synagogue and it will just happen.

Im sorry, but mimicking Hebrew (without being taught the meaning) and acting a ritual routine (again, without meaning) is what kept me disconnected in the first place, early on, in my childhood. In this manner, Judaism wasnt mine, authentically. I was unknowingly doing it to fit someone elses expectations. By the way, not to single-out, Ive experienced this phenomena occurring in all the branches of Judaism. All routine and mimic, no meaning.

Orthodox rabbis make the stark comment in response that, …at least you know how to read Hebrew. Youre in a better place than most… To me, this laissez faire attitude that this disconnect is being allowed to happen to the Jewish Nation is appalling – just letting Amalek pick-off those of us who have fallen behind in the back of the crowd. The old saying, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, seems very applicable here.

This time of year marks the beginning again for the Jewish people, as it is also the beginning of renewing our history and heritage. However, unfortunately, MOST individual Jews, Id say, arent moving forward in their Yiddishkite (and consequently are not contributing towards bringing Moshiach). Theyve been encountering barriers, to which more proficient Jews have already had the keys!

Consequently, there are too MANY secular Jews who continue to be stuck, perpetually, in the beginning… in Jewish immaturity … and, therefore, leave the NATION vulnerable. So, may we double and renew the kavanah of our kiruv (outreach) efforts and apply what we said at the end of the Torah, chazak chazak vnitchazek, (strength, strength, and let us be strengthened!) towards the now – the beginning. Lchaim (to life), Am Yisrael (The Jewish Nation)! 🙂

Shabbat Shalom and Moshiach NOW,
Jeff Aronchick

Palladio
9 years ago

It is so amazing to be able to testify over this, I have built my own Ark, my personal Sacred Space, My Forcefield of Light, but these days is known as The Electronic Circle… The Ark is buld upon nurishment of rhythmic prayer, with a constancy of adoration to the ONE G-d… it builds an amazing imprenetable momentum of Light that can protect you from any physical tumult, mental unrest or emotional turmoil. I totally agree with Rabbi Jacobson. I am living the miracles of this actions for I do my daily calls to G-d. Thank you!!!

Palladio.

lakshmima7@aol.com
9 years ago

I am reminded of the sea of orange robes that lined up in India for food to be served …they have been so proficient in this lesson!!!!! I think a middle practical road is what is called for, the ark is an ark of reason, she protects her chelas from the cold and hunger…the divine feminine needs to be decoded for the suffocating masculine message of the eons. She loves, she nurtures, she wants no one to go without food, no one to suffer, she shelters and she makes love with passion to create a better world. Put your begging bowls aside and know the Shekinnah, she waits for all of you!!! Lakshmima

lisa reik
9 years ago

To Jeff, who bemoans Jews lack of Hebrew:
Anyone who is serious bout leaning to speak, read and write Hebrew shuld certainly come to Israel and enroll in an Ulpan for 3 months (this is the minimum time).
This is the minimum in order to keep up with the language.

Being surrounded by Hebrew is the only way to forge ahead in a real sense.

Anyone interestd can ask their local Jewish Agency rep about ulpanim in Israel.

Lisa M.
2 years ago

Thank you! Someone once told me, “Money comes with a warning label. It says ‘In God We Trust…’