Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Feeling Bullish

One interesting consequence of human interaction in general, and posting on a blog in particular, is that people don’t always seem to pick up the message you’re sending. For a writer this can be especially frustrating, because his raison d'être is to communicate, which fundamentally is about being understood. But as former Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach would put it: “Communication is not what you tell them. It’s what they hear you say.”

Recently I posted about how a friend of mine had decided to stop keeping Shabbos because she saw it as an inconvenience. I countered with a thought that sometimes Judaism isn’t all fun and games. My point—or so I thought—was that sometimes you have to go through rough patches, sometimes you have to roll with the proverbial punches.

But reading through some of the comments to the post, I got the sinking feeling that I had unearthed a dormant feeling of negativism: “Let's face it, being an orthodox jewish person can be really HARD. IS really hard,” wrote one reader. “This is what most people who are honest to themselves do—clinch their teeth and drag along, hoping for better in the future,” wrote another. And worst of all, one stated: “I never understood what would motivate a person that grew up unreligiously to change their lifestyle.” Perhaps I am making too much of these comments.

Perhaps I am quoting them out of context. But they struck me as a response to something I said but didn’t mean. Because, with very limited exceptions (see my post, “Siz Shver Tzizein Ah Yid”), I don’t believe that following Halachah is terribly difficult. Uncomfortable at times, yes, but not overly grueling. I fully understand why a secular person who discovers Torah would embrace it, restrictions and all.

So I began to think. And I happened upon a helpful analogy.

Although sometimes I wish that blogging was my full-time enterprise, I do actually have a day job, and that is as a financial advisor. The other day (in the shower, I believe, where most of my best ideas hatch) it occurred to me that being a Torah Jew is a lot like investing in the stock market.

Why do we invest money in the stock market? Because we want to get rich. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we get disappointed. But if we have a proper understanding of investments, of the ups and downs of the market, of the expanding global economy, of P/E ratios and dividend yields, we begin to understand the wisdom of investing and we don’t let the down days discourage us.

Furthermore, we are willing to delay gratification—spending our money now—in order to fund a long-term, disciplined investment plan, the benefits of which may not become apparent for decades.

Sound familiar?

I am absolutely confident that this is what King Solomon had in mind when he wrote, in Mishlei, “Im tevakshena kakesef, vechamatmonim techapsenah—If you seek it like silver, and like hidden treasure you search for it, then you will understand fear of G-d and find knowledge of the L-rd.”

Being a good Jew is a lot like being a good investor.

When clients ask me if a particular investment is a good idea, I give them a litmus test, which I call the Pillow Question. “If you do this, how will you sleep at night?” I ask them. “In other words, even if a particular investment is a great idea objectively, statistically, but you’re not personally comfortable with it, and it’s going to keep you up at night worrying, then it’s not worth doing.”

“But,” I add, “If it really is a good idea, part of my job is to help you become comfortable with it, to make you understand why it makes sense and why it’s a sound investment.”

Torah observance is similar. When we don’t understand what we’re doing, it can be uncomfortable. We may be plagued by questions and doubts. But by studying the mitzvos, we gain a better appreciation of each one. By studying Torah generally, we gain insight and wisdom, and are better equipped to handle our responsibility to serve G-d and observe His Torah.

Experience is another factor. People who have been in the markets for awhile know how to distinguish between the noise on the financial channels and the truly important stories. They have witnessed the bulls run, the bears sleep, and the pigs get slaughtered. These folks tend to be the most comfortable of clients—regardless of how their portfolio is doing. When the markets fall, they aren’t fazed. In fact they invest more. They know (although they can’t really prove it!) that over the long-term they’ll be in good shape.

With Torah observance, as well, experience is a guiding light. The longer you observe the more you learn to distinguish between the noise and the real issues. You tolerate the ups and downs of life and you’re aware that when things get rough it’s a good time to “buy low”—to pray more, to study more, to contribute more to charity. We can all be good Jews when we’re comfortable; when we’re being knocked around a bit by life, that’s how we prove our mettle and dedication.

Long-term—not just in the next world, but in this one as well—we know we’ll be in good shape.

But wait.

Don’t there exist people who have been observant their whole lives yet are still miserable? How do we explain that?

I blame it on poor investment strategy. Perhaps their Judaism simply “follows the herd,” by mimicking the outward behavior of others, without any depth. Perhaps their Judaism is heavily concentrated in just a handful of positions, and lacks a fully diversified portfolio of mitzvos—both bein adam lachaveiro and bein adam laMakom. Perhaps their Judaism has been unduly harmed by bad brokers (teachers). Perhaps they inherited a distorted worldview from their parents.

And so they wallow in misery and frustration.

But they can change that.

I know a lot of people who got creamed in the stock market crash of 2000 and now keep their money exclusively in FDIC insured certificates of deposit. But I also know a great deal more people who saw it as a learning experience. They are still open to learning the proper way to invest. They’ve given up on their methods—not on the markets.

Like the personal finance section in Barnes & Noble, the bookshelves at your local Judaica place are filled with good advice. And if you don’t like to read, you can always listen to tapes. It’s all there “if you seek it like silver, and like hidden treasure you search for it.”

Finally, it’s all a matter of trust. My best clients generally do whatever I recommend without question. They don’t do that because they’re idiots. They do it because they understand that I have their financial well-being in mind and a vested interest in the success of their portfolios. Over time, they have learned to trust my judgement.

The Torah observant Jew, who studies, who practices, who prays, who struggles, who succeeds, who fails, who repents, who grows, develops a trust in Torah that sees him through the good times and the bad times. We may not see the logic, we may not appreciate the goodness, but we know that G-d has intended the best for us, and we are willing to surrender our short-term depressions and anxieties to the greater long-term good of a Torah lifestyle.

53 Comments:

Blogger TRW said...

I'm considering some investments ;)

Thank you.

Wed Aug 17, 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger EN said...

Great post. Nice points.

Wed Aug 17, 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

That was such a beautifully well written and meaningful post. I enjoyed it immensely even though it was a bit long..

Wed Aug 17, 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger tinablue87 said...

A very creative and well put analogy, thank you!

Thu Aug 18, 12:06:00 AM  
Blogger Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

Dearest ClooJew,
Your statement in regards to contents of what you are expressing and others do not respond to what you are conveying, can be frustrating at times. Actually I wrote a post on that exact subject. Your quote from the coach was right on!

The same can be said for Christianity i.e. fun & games. To add patience and discipline as well!

Feeling comments personally, that does count for something about you. (smiling)You are a caring person...I feel!

We all do to some degree i.e. rough patches and the punches.
BTW, the shower is the one place where I seem more inspired and my best writing originates from, all except there are no paper or pens for notes, it flows the very best at that time. (smiling)

King Solomon was very wise. You sound like someone I would trust with my investment. I get the feeling you truly do care about people and what important decisions they are making. Your observance is equivalent to my feelings towards my Bible and strong faith with my relationship with Our God. Wishing I understood more the “Words” used in the Jewish Faith and considering seriously steps towards possible conversion. I love the Jewish people and my community very much. I desire to learn more about the Torah, as you can tell I am Christian and somewhat well informed to a degree on our Bible. We were taught to love the Jewish people because you are God’s Chosen Ones and we need to always stand up and protect as people and a nation for the Jewish People.

You definitely have an interesting perspective on life, investment, Judaism, and why people react and live their life the way they do. I believe wallowing miserable people can change.

I believe there are things we are not suppose to know, the unknown, but we should pray, practice, strive towards wisdom, repent and trust our being of all decisions to God. I use the example walking blinded folded with my hand extended out and allowing God to lead me. It is when I stray off is when I find trouble. To me it is very important to praise HIM and be thankful. I appreciate you emailing me and allowing me to comment on an excellent post. I do hope you still would like for me to be a reader and most importantly a friend.
Take care and may God Bless you.

Thu Aug 18, 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger turquoiseblue said...

ClooJew - it was well worth the wait! What a well-formed analogy, well-written post. This should've taken quite a while to write/edit...

I ditto one of your previous commenters - you should get your "articles" published so that many others can enjoy.

Thu Aug 18, 01:35:00 AM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

so shtark, so shtark, I love it! your rebbes would be proud, my friend.

1) Do you foresee a crash? Maybe yungerleit who are bney yungerleit who cannot afford it anymore? Maybe the attempt to overly shelter and protect today's youth might cause a knee-jerk rebellion (or already has)?

2) Where are the high risk investments that can potentially produce the most rewards but will keep you awake at night? Modern Orthodoxy? Kiruv? Aliyah?

3) What about brokers who recommend their own funds? Rabbonim who claim only their hashgocho is kosher, the ones who too easily take a swipe at other Jews?

4) After a personal crash, what are the "safe" funds to invest in?

TRK

Thu Aug 18, 05:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent!

Thu Aug 18, 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger turquoiseblue said...

TRK - an informed and intelligent "investor". I like your questions. Looking foward to CJ's response... CJ?

Thu Aug 18, 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Since Turq asked so nicely...

1. I think this would be a good idea for a future post. Semgirl and Elisheva (Semstory) both recently posted about how their "restrictive" upbringing pushed them in certain directions. Is a swing to the left the solution? I don't think so. But what is the solution then?

2. I think the highest risk is having, as I mentioned, a "concentrated portfolio"--people who pick and choose the mitzvos they do. The guy who leaves shul in the morning only to cheat people at work; the people who keep the Big Three mitzvos (Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas Hamishpachah) but little else; people who do alot but learn only a little (Talmud Torah keneged kulam).

A corollary to this is the classic "Tocho Kebaro" problem that I see mushrooming. People who look one way on the outside and are different on the inside. Obviously, we all have our hidden desires and tests, but I think the outer shell of many people (their clothes, the way they talk) is getting harder while the inside is getting softer. This, too, is fodder for a future post.

3. Great analogy. It's a problem, but smaller, I believe, than the ones outlined above.

4. Torah and Tefillah. Always. If you're looking for solace after a personal crash, I like machshava/mussar. And the Artscroll Linear Tehillim is fabulous.

Thu Aug 18, 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

2 points:

I) I totally agree with everything KevinPrice said above.

2) I think (without looking) that I was one of your three quotes and yes, i belive that you probbaly did take me out of context. But that's cool. I forgive you, man.

Thu Aug 18, 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger bleemy's blemishes said...

You need some pictures and color on this blog. It will make it more attractive to dummies like me! ;-)

Thu Aug 18, 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger turquoiseblue said...

Elster - I LOL'd on number 1 - and was wondering what's going to when ClooJew zaps that spammer... People just coming to the blog are gonna scroll up and down the blog comments - scratching their heads - trying to figure out WHO is KevinPrice and WHAT did he say... :)

Thu Aug 18, 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

You do not need to be Torah observant to be happy. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with it, just saying that it is not the sole path to happiness.

Part of the challenge lies in becoming secure with you are and happy with what you have.

Thu Aug 18, 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger ms. shtark said...

wow, this is a really well thought out post and i totally agree with it. gr8 analogy as well!
I think what gets ppl down could be the same old cycle, daven 3 times a day, berachos, tefillin, mikva and doing things by rote. rav moshe chaim luzzato expands upon this in mesillas yeshorim when he talks about "mitzvas anoshim milumada". we have to do mitvos with feeling - "bechal levovcho uvechol nafshecha". Rabeinu bechaya compares this to a field overgrown with weeds. we must "tend to our fields and put feeling and effort into the mitzvos".
granted, it is hard to prevent ourselves from falling into this pattern, but by uplifting ourselves with shiurim and reading some of the great books out there ( i actually recommend "path of the just" by r. twerski), it would help. we occasionally need a tap on the shoulder or even a bang on the head and this is to remind us there is a g-d above who runs the world..
about ppl coming from restrictive backgrounds, that is a whole other discussion. semgirl, how about it?:-)

Thu Aug 18, 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

Turq:

It's all about the humor for me. My gift and my curse, trust me.

And still, we wait for your blog.....

Thu Aug 18, 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

I thought that was a great post.

I admit I didn't really understand it all.

Its complex, I have to come back and read it again sometime.

I wanted to mention that I thought your post on the palestine blog was outstandingly well said.

the fact she deleted it notwithstanding it was awesome!

Thu Aug 18, 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Great post, thanks

Thu Aug 18, 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger Jew Speak said...

I'm with semgirl on your post.

Jews are into long term investing. The source of this is the premise that there is a world to come that we are working towards. This premise is everything to the Jew and explains many of his behaviors.

There was an interesting study I read about in the book "emotional intelligence" regarding the effects of delaying gratification. An experimentor walks into a room and places a marshmellow on the table in front of a 5 year old. He tells the five year old, "I will be back in 10 mintutes, if you wait till I get back I will give you 5 marshmellows, if not you just get this one." They followed these kids as they matured into adulthood and found that the kids who had waited for the experimentor to get back ended up being more successful in life. The secular world understands that there are benifits to delaying gratification.

But we already knew that, didn't we ;)

Fri Aug 19, 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

CoolJew,
I do hope I did not say or express any thought in my comment that may have offended anyone. I truly tried to go through your post as you wrote it and commented accordingly based on my views and thoughts.

Someone posted on my site anonyous and told one of my readers that they would respond to her here (your site) to their statement to me. And BTW, I do not understand their long message there either.

Again the last thing in the world I would ever want is to offend or hurt anyone by anything I said or stated on your post. Take care!

May God Bless you!

Fri Aug 19, 01:31:00 AM  
Blogger Y.Y. said...

another great blog wow

Fri Aug 19, 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger brianna said...

"They have witnessed the bulls run, the bears sleep, and the pigs get slaughtered"

Hey I also like Money Talk! Or is that just usual financial jargon....

Fri Aug 19, 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Turq, to avoid confusion, the KevinPrice referenced by Elster was a spammer as you suspected.

My policy is to delete all spam, as well as links to other blogs that have nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

Suzie, I didn't see anything in your comment that was at all offensive. Your thoughts are always welcome.

Jew Speak, my only caveat to your words is that it's not simply about the next world, but this world as well.

Fri Aug 19, 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Chai18 said...

great post

Fri Aug 19, 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Yes, Bri, that quote is based on a well-known investors' maxim.

Fri Aug 19, 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Manny said...

Hazorim bidimah, birinah yiktzoru

Your post did a great job summing up our role in life. The mesilat yesharim speaks about this in a firey way.
Its like that marshmellow story, our struggle with the yetzer harah is about delaying gratification in favor of something greater. The mesilat yesharim is full of examples like that. Are we mature enough?
But once we begin to flourish, we dont "do it for the reward" anymore, we begin to love God and the way He works the world, and do things just because they are His will.

The Jewish community really needs to get honest with themselevs, and to commit themselves to God, not to Judaism. Being Jewish, is cultural, and one can easilly choose what he does and doesnt want to follow while avoiding being outcast. But commiting oneself to God will give one a private satisfaction, that is beyond the tzarot that will come to anyoen in their lifetime.
Such a perspective is what caused Dovid Hamelech, when faced with a lifetime of refuge, feeling from Saul, and then from his own sons, in their attempt to usurp the throne, to sing shirah (tehilim), and to praise God even in what an outside observer would say, are the darkest moments.

Kudos on your wise post.

Fri Aug 19, 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

Hey you are so wise, will you go and have a word with this Hamas supporter I am debating.

He went to Gaza on a summer program and is a Hamas guy now.

Please join this discussion, and talk some sense to this guy!
http://cleave.blogs.com/pomomusings/2005/08/israelipalestin.html

Sat Aug 20, 10:00:00 PM  
Anonymous aaron said...

ClooJew -- Great post. I have heard related ideas before but your style really drives it home. Regarding the posuk in mishlei I think it is supposed to give us pause and make us think: if I put in X amount of effort into my parnassah, which is just a means to an end, why am I not pursuing Torah with the same amount of energy.

Manny -- good point about "do it for the reward anymore". But you have to be careful saying things like "commit themselves to G-d, not to Judaism." Someone might misunderstand. Of course it is through Torah and Mizvos that one commits her/himself to G-d, or at least demonstrates the commitment, but the statement could be read otherwise.

Sat Aug 20, 11:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isnt directly related to this post, but if I put the comment on the relevant post on Jewish Issues you might never see it.

Check Kiddushin 81a for some interesting Agadita

Sun Aug 21, 01:38:00 AM  
Blogger Cool BT said...

cloojew, nice post! What does your name mean? I know hebrew but can't make the enlish out.

Sun Aug 21, 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Callie,

Because you ask so nicely, I will check it out. But my feeling in general is that it's hard to "debate" these guys.

Aaron and Manny,

There was a terrific essay by Rabbi Bechhoffer on the difference between Chassidus and Misnagdus and one thing he raised was that Misnagdim are more concerned with fealty to the Shulchan Aruch rather than getting close to G-d. Now before you jump all over that, I'm sure it's a huge oversimplification, but still food for thought.

The article and subsequent commentary can be found on Rabbi Bechhofer's blog: rygb.blogspot.com

Anon,
I suppose I can let a Talmudic reference in; as long as your not hawking hair gel.

Cool,
My name must remain a mystery. It's actually pretty easy to figure out if you've seen my pics.

Sun Aug 21, 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I hope it's not too late to look back on TRK's "smart investing" questions. CJ put off an answer to the first question on the "market crash," but I thought I'd suggest a possible answer in line with the investing analogy.

The generation that rebels doesn't represent a crash. Just the opposite, it represents success to a certain extent. These are like the children of wealthy families, who have been spoiled by their take-it-for-granted lifestyle. Just like the children of the uber-wealthy, these children are the heir of a very rich inheritance. However, they turn their backs on their parents' lifestyle, seeing their parents' emptiness. So too is a child raised in a frum community by parents who either don't fully appreciate the spiritual aspects of their committment, or regret their choices.

Like anything, children need to be taught about value and hard work. Whether finances or religion, both follow the dictum of "Yagata U'Matzata-Struggle and you will succeed."

That being said, I would propose that a spiritual "crash" is not unheard of, even on a marketwide level. Such was the example of the Shabbtai Tzvi false messianism. A stock market crash is caused by speculation based on unfounded facts that raise the value of the investment beyond it's true worth. So too, then, are any false ideologies wrapped in the clothing of truth. The fear of a "crash" was one of the reasons Misnagdim where so strongly opposed to Chassidus. It is for this reason that defending the true meaning of Judaism from false usurpers, such as Kabbalah Centers, is vital to popping any bubble before it starts.

Sun Aug 21, 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No I'm not hawking anything, merely pointing out a Gam' that you claim didnt exist on NJ's blog.

Sun Aug 21, 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Josh, as always, excellent, insightful (though not inciteful) words.

Sun Aug 21, 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Cool BT said...

cj, what does luleidemistafina mean?

Sun Aug 21, 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Lulei demistafina means "Were I not afraid." It's a phrase used by many of the Biblical, Talmudic and halachic commentators when they want to say something controversial. They say, "If I were not afraid, I would say..." and then they say it. Its a signal of humility, as if to say, who am I to propose such an original idea.

Sun Aug 21, 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cool BT said...

I'm familiar with the hebrew phrase just couldn't make it out in your english.

Now I will go fishing for your feedback on my post ;)

Sun Aug 21, 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

CJ You are right about debating Hamas supporting types.
Its pointless and a waste of time and energy.
I thought I would be able to 'educate' them but of course I only end up educating myself.
Thats a good lesson I suppose but thanks for trying.

Wed Aug 24, 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

Heythere. It's been a while since your last post. Is everything okay? -Zoe

Fri Aug 26, 04:02:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

re people who have been observant their whole lives yet are still miserable -
i disagree with your comment. I've known people (up close) who are impeccable in their midos, frumkeit, solid inside and out, who have suffered tremendously.
no, they're not perfect...but the people who are happy and successful in life aren't either.

Fri Aug 26, 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

I read all the archives, I think this blog would make an awesome book.

I hope you come back and write more.

Sat Aug 27, 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

so...are you saying you think you look like george clooney?

Mon Aug 29, 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

Josh - very articulate and well reasoned comments.

Mon Aug 29, 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger JewishBiFemme said...

wow! I needed to read this great blog!

Mon Aug 29, 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does "lulei demistafina" mean?

Tue Aug 30, 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Lulei demistafina means "Were I not afraid." It's a phrase used by many of the Biblical, Talmudic and halachic commentators when they want to say something controversial. They say, "If I were not afraid, I would say..." and then they say it. Its a signal of humility, as if to say, who am I to propose such an original idea.

Tue Aug 30, 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Chai said...

CJ,
Your analogy is great, and I couldn't have read this at a better time - I'm at a crossroads in my life, and reading your post has given me a lot of food for thought.
I'm sure that if I'd nit-pick I could find an excuse to argue against what you have to say, but it would be just that, an excuse. It's time for me to take responsibility for who I am and where I'm going; time to stop making excuses.
Thank you for a thought-provoking post,
Chai

Tue Aug 30, 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

what's your rate of return vs. the s&p 500?

Tue Aug 30, 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Chai,

Everything happens for a purpose. I had another post almost ready to go yesterday, and due to a computer glitch, I lost most of it. Perhaps this post needed to be front and center just a bit longer so you could find it.

Mata, that is a closely guarded secret!

Tue Aug 30, 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger bleemy's blemishes said...

does everything happen for a purpose? i dont believe that at all!

Tue Aug 30, 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

hey anonymous - why don't you write your own blog instead of spamming cloo's?

Tue Aug 30, 09:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Chai said...

I guess so, CJ. G-d sends us messages in mysterious ways. I havne't had time to do any blog-surfing in the past 2 weeks, and I must confess, I'm not a regular on your blog in general. But last night I decided to follow a link to your blog, and I'm glad I did.

Yes, Bleemy, I too believe that everything happens for a purpose. Just because we can't see the reason, or understand it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
I don't understand rocket science, does that mean it isn't true? I can't see the radiowaves coming from my computer, does that mean that they don't exist?

This reminds me of a story I once heard: A little Jewish boy, living Commiunist Russia, was in school. His teacher said, "Children, can you see this chair?" Obviously, the children answered positively. "That means that the chair exists." "Can you see this table? That means that the table exists." "Can you see G-d?" "No." "That menans that G-d doesn't exist." This little Jewish boy stood up and said, "Can we see the teacher's brain? That means that it doesn't exist."

Wed Aug 31, 07:07:00 PM  
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Sat Feb 18, 02:18:00 PM  

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