THE ART OF FINANCIAL SERENITY
Coronavirus has taught the world that real wealth is health, family, and safety. It has taught us that to be alive, to be able to breathe, is a blessing. Many perceive wealth as a blessing, but as the rich frequently confess, this is a mistake. Wealth and happiness are just not one and the same.
The wisest of men taught יֵ֚שׁ רָעָ֣ה חוֹלָ֔ה רָאִ֖יתִי תַּ֣חַת הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ עֹ֛שֶׁר שָׁמ֥וּר לִבְעָלָ֖יו לְרָעָתֽוֹ: There is a bad sickness that I saw under the sun, wealth that is reserved for its owner for his bad.(Kohelet 5;12) Wealth is what made Korah haughty and ultimately led to his demise. Navot was killed because King Achab wanted his vineyard and wealth. Haman’s wealth allowed him to plot to kill the Jews, which ultimately made him lose the lives of his entire family and all of his property to Queen Esther. The tribes Gad and Reuven chose to live on the other side of the Jordan River to protect their wealth, which caused them to be the first to be exiled. Iyob’s vast wealth in this world made it unnecessary to reward him in the next world. The Abarbanel confessed that it was his wife’s precious stone that caused the jealousy of the Queen of Spain and brought about the Spanish Inquisition. (Peleh Yoetz 47, Galut)
Money can cause endless anxiety. No matter how much you have, you can never be sure that you will not somehow lose it all. And the inflation monster is continuously eating up your money, while it is “safe” in the bank. King Solomon equated monetary anxiety with sickness because both sickness and money-related issues can cause you not to sleep or eat.
Therapists coined the term “MAD”: money anxiety disorder. Here are the six signs of MAD. Overspending: When people have such anxiety about money, the freedom of a shopping spree seems to offer temporary relief. Hoarding: Accumulating stuff they cannot let go of, or accumulating cash just to give them a feeling of control. Frugal to a fault: When people do not even spend the bare minimum on themselves. Thriftiness is a value, only as long as you do not miss out on life’s joys, serenity, or health. Financial lies: When people lie to others and themselves about what’s going on with their loans, debt, income, or expenses. Financial enabling: Overspending on your loved ones, preventing them from taking responsibility for their expenditures while putting your retirement, businesses, or serenity, in jeopardy. Anxiety: People who have anxiety about money have a distorted view of money, not differentiating between what is necessary and vital, and what needs to be put aside for retirement, emergency funds, or family Semahot.
So how does G-d expect us to stop being MAD? He blesses us with the most powerful blessing in the world, His Birkat Kohanim, each day. The blessing is referred to as ברכה המשולשת, the ‘triple blessing’. All three blessings of Birkat Kohanim have G-d’s Name of YKVK. Why is Birkat Kohanim unique, in that it is a triple blessing? And why is G-d’s Name mentioned three times?
The Targum Yonatan tells us that the words of each blessing dictate a different blessing. The first blessing is that your finances and material needs be taken care of. The second blessing is that you will be connected to Torah, blessed with wisdom and understanding, and the grace that comes with Torah. The third blessing is that you will be connected to G-d through prayer and that G-d will answer your prayers.
In what way are these three blessings connected? King Solomon taught, ‘בדעת חדרים ימלאו’ (Mishlei 24,4). With wisdom, rooms will be filled (with wealth). Our Rabbis explain this to mean that anyone who has wisdom will end up being wealthy. (Sanhedrin 92a) Our Rabbis teach that without financial stability, one cannot learn Torah properly, אם אין קמח אין תורה. And our Torah is filled with wisdom on how to manage our finances in such a way that wealth will equal blessing. Real blessing is threefold, wealth, wisdom, and a relationship with G-d; all are interconnected and work hand in hand to fight MAD and add blessing to our lives. Being connected to G-d through prayer is the best way to fight MAD. The Birkat Kohanim is teaching us that real blessing is never wealth alone, prayer alone, or even Torah alone. And to be blessed with all three, wealth, wisdom, and prayer, we need G-d’s Name of mercy, YKVK. Why?
We know that the Name of יקוק is representing היה הווה יהיה. He was, He is, and He will be. Rabeinu Bachye points to something profound in the number of letters of each passuk of the three blessings. The first passuk has in it 15 letters, like the Name of G-d י-ה which represents present tense הוה (numerical value of 16, one off is still considered the same gematriah), He is. The second passuk has in it 20 letters, corresponding G-d’s Name of היה (numerical value of 20), He was. The third passuk has 25 letters corresponding G-d’s Name, יהי (numerical value of 25), and He will be. He is, He was, and He will be. The first blessing of material plenty corresponds G-d in the present. The blessing of wisdom corresponds with G-d in the past. The blessing of prayers answered corresponds with the future.
G-d’s Name in the three blessings is telling us that He is in the present, past and future, all at the same time. Why is this important to fight MAD, and bring you serenity? When you realize that your anxiety is the outcome of your 1-dimensional vision, of focusing only on your present, only on your future, or only your past, you will realize that your financial anxiety is just anxiety. G-d is always above, and He always sees 3D. Difficult times are just a part of a bigger overall picture that we can’t see or understand yet. Anxiety for the future, regret for the past, are thoughts that have no place in your mind when your mind accepts and embraces the fact that the merciful G-d is in total control of what you are not.
Selfie Steps to financial serenity:
- Control. Learn to have self-constraint on your short-term financial goals for the sake of your long-term financial goals. Consider your more significant, long-term financial goals like serenity, debt-free life, family semahot, safe investments for your retirement, your education, and the education of your children.
- Stop! Stop worrying about impressing people you don’t actually care about. Stop buying things you do not actually need. Stop spending more than you are earning.
- Start getting organized, and get your finances in order. Start being more grateful for what you have, and trust G-d for what you don’t.
- Associate yourself with those who live with a proper balance of frugality and thriftiness, while at the same time live happy lives, and lives of meaning.
- More money will never create financial serenity; only you can create financial serenity through proper balance and prayer. Pray the serenity prayer, each day. Meditate on it. G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
- When all of the above does not work, when you mess up again and again in your finances, fire yourself. Put someone else in charge, someone you have to be accountable to, and can take direction from, like an experienced business coach or financial adviser with many success stories, testimonials, and recommendations.
- Eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Practice just breathing. Inhale, hold in that air, and then exhale it slowly while imagining all your fear, frustrations, and failures exiting your being with that breath of air.
- Last, and not at all least, bring blessing into your life: Attend Birkat Kohanim. Recite Birkat Hamazon slowly, and from a siddur. Be on top of your Maaser. Respect your wife, spoil her. Read Parashat HaMan. Be honest in business. Start saying “Im Yirzeh Hashem”, or G-d willing. Read Ketoret each day, better from parchment. Keep Shabbat with all its laws. Eat Melaveh Malka. Put some havdalah wine drops in your pockets. And then, when your finances are in order, sponsor some more of my parasha articles!
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