Challenges of the Modern World: "They Got Their Hands on our
Reading the business pages of the secular press lately can be
quite 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 has gone from more
than 150,000 employees just two years ago to a planned 35,000
within the next three months -- 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.
Unemployment is up. 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
(Israel is one exception) in an effort to stimulate economic
activity but, as the months grind by, no recovery appears,
even on the horizon.
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," as the Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah
3:1) explains the Greeks succeeded in doing during the
Bayis Sheini among their other pressures that led up
to the Chanukah rebellion and 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." There is no defined end of economic
achievement, no point of satiety. There is no goal. They are
just pursuing growth and more growth -- more and more and
more -- with no end. They are depressed when there is no
America's yearly bounty is more than $35,000 for every
person. Even in Israel it is more than $18,000 after
shrinking for two years. 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
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
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