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Parshas Vayigash (5769)

AN OLD BLESSING FOR THE NEW YEAR

2008 is over, and that’s a good thing. This has been one of the worst years - financially speaking - since anyone can remember.

Now losing your job or your life savings is certainly no laughing matter. But in times like these, when we see our stocks and investments and the global markets losing value daily with no way to control it, there is not much else we can do but laugh. So here are some “bad economy” jokes I have lifted from the internet for you to enjoy and hopefully relieve some of that unhealthy, financial-related stress you might be feeling right now:

~ The economy is so bad, a van of legal Americans got caught sneaking into Mexico.

~ I have an uncle down at Wall Street. He used to have a corner on the market. Now he has a market on the corner.

~ How bad is the recession in New Jersey? So bad that the Mafia is laying off judges.

~ What’s the difference between an investment banker and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four.

~ The economy is so bad, V.P. Dick Cheney took his stockbroker hunting.

~ I went to the ATM this morning and it said “insufficient funds”. I’m wondering is it them or me.

~ In these busy market times, how can you get the attention of your broker? Say, "Hey, waiter!"

And here’s one for all you anti-Bush types:

~ A French doctor says, “Medicine in my country is so advanced that we can take a kidney out of one man, put it in another, and have him looking for work in six weeks.” A German doctor says, “That is nothing; we can take a lung out of one person, put it in another, and have him looking for work in four weeks.” The Russian doctor says, “In my country, medicine is so advanced that we can take half a heart out of one person, put it in another, and have them both looking for work in two weeks.” An American Texas doctor, not to be outdone, says, “You guys are way behind. We recently took a man with no brains out of Texas, put him the White House for eight years, and now half the country is looking for work!”

All kidding aside, there is actually something else we can do about the current financial situation - besides laughing about it – that might even help make things better for us in the coming year. In fact, it is something that Jews have been doing consistently three times a day for well over 2000 years – they prayed to G-d and recited a special blessing for prosperity and financial success.

This prayer, which is part of the Shemoneh Esrei, or Eighteen Blessings, that we say in the synagogue while standing with our feet together in a private, one-on-one conversation with our Father in Heaven, is the ninth blessing and is called Bircas Hashanim, the Blessing for [a Year] of Prosperity. [It is important to point out that even if you can’t make it to a synagogue and/or you can’t find the time to pray the entire Shemoneh Esrei, it is still worthwhile to pray at home whatever you can. Each individual blessing has so much relevance to our lives – and especially the blessing for prosperity.]

Let us take a deeper look into the words and meaning of this short blessing which has been repeated throughout history by our ancestors with great intent and devotion each day before they went to work:

Introduction: In this blessing, we ask that G-d grant us true prosperity, not false prosperity. Sharp upturns in the business cycle may inflate property values, launch corporate takeovers, and cause stock prices to skyrocket. Unscrupulous speculators may take advantage of this situation to drive up optimism to unrealistic levels. Suddenly, everybody is investing in stocks, junk bonds, and real estate, and it seems as if instant wealth is within anyone’s reach. Then the bubble bursts and countless investors and innocent bystanders are the victims of yet another recession or Ponzi scheme (think Bernie Madoff). To help prevent this from happening, we beseech G-d to protect us from the false prosperity created by selfish manipulators. We desire true prosperity that can only come as a gift from G-d.

“Bless on our behalf - O Lord our G-d – this year” – We ask for prosperity for this year, because one’s wealth is determined on an annual basis. As the Talmud teaches, “All of a person’s sustenance and livelihood for the coming year is decreed on Rosh Hashanah”. Nevertheless, we still pray for sustenance every day of the year, since G-d decides each day how much pleasure we will derive frothe possessions that we already have, so we must constantly pray for daily satisfaction.

“and all its kinds of crops for the best” – In some countries people may earn fine incomes, but their money does them no good because the shelves in the stores are empty. Some countries have an abundance of one product but are missing other essential items. For this reason we pray for all kinds of crops, at all times, for all people.

“and give (blessing/dew and rain for a blessing) on the face of the earth” – The term “on the face of the earth” can refer to the entire globe and denote that we are asking for world-wide prosperity. We recognize that the fortunes of all mankind are related (especially in today’s global market) and one should not be able to enjoy personal abundance if elsewhere others are suffering.

“and satisfy us from Your bounty” – We ask for prosperity with utmost caution, as financial success can easily be a curse, for the perils of prosperity are many: It can lead to arrogance, as often happens when people gain wealth and the status that comes with it. Prosperity also carries a price – the more we have, the more worry we have over maintaining it. The greatest hazard of prosperity is that it fosters insatiable greed. As the Vilna Gaon observed: “Materialism is like saltwater – the more you drink, the thirstier you become!” With all these potential dangers in mind, we pray to G-d: Satisfy us from Your bounty. We can be content only when we realize that the source of our success is G-d, not our own efforts. This way, we will be protected from any negative side-effects.

“and bless our year like the best years” – We ask for a blessing which is apportioned evenly throughout the year. What good is a financial windfall at the end of the year, if a cash-flow crisis has already bankrupted the company in the beginning of the year? Thus we pray for a year of constant blessing like the best years, i.e. those that were blessed from beginning to end.

“Blessed are You, G-d, who blesses the years.” – This ending of the blessing really sums up the traditional Jewish worldview on the global economy and each individual’s place within it. It is not Ben S. Bernanke, or OPEC, or the G8, or President Bush who decides what kind of financial year it will be in 2009 – rather, it is G-d - the ultimate Banker in Heaven - who blesses the years.

Time will tell what the New Year 2009 will bring. Will the world sink into another {Not so) Great Depression, or will the global economy bounce back? At this point, the best we can do is to laugh a little and pray a lot …. and hope that G-d will hear our blessing and rain down blessing on all of us for another year.

[Sources: Shemoneh Esrei by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer; Mesorah Publications 1990]

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