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.
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.
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.