One of the great chassidim of the past generation was Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel endured 20 years of torturous labor in a Soviet prison camp for the crime of teaching Judaism. Reb Mendel's heroic defiance extended beyond his life-risking efforts to observe Jewish law, to his far more bizarre persistence at always being cheerful, regardless of his desperate circumstance.

Reb Mendel's virtue and piety earned him an unparalleled degree of respect from his fellow inmates. Once, as they sat together, they asked him A Visa card can't offer sympathy, a T-bond can't read bedtime stories and a stock option can't help make a minyan out of incredulous curiosity why he was always happy. In classic Talmudic style he turned the question back to them, asking why they were so depressed. Stunned, they responded with the seemingly obvious—each told his tale, how they had once been prominent lawyers, journalists or politicians back in Moscow, and how they had run afoul of the government and now they were banished to the wasteland of Siberia.

Convinced that they had made an irrefutable case for their misery, they returned to their original question: "Reb Mendel, why are you so happy?"

To which he replied, "In Moscow I was a Jew and here I am a Jew."

Over the last few months many rich men have become paupers, many wealthy people have become impoverished—it's a scary time. What consolation can Torah offer for those whose fortunes have been wiped out?

Perhaps Reb Mendel's story can offer some insight. You were never a "rich man"; you were a man who was rich. Your identity was not, and therefore is not, your bank account or investments—we see now how easily they were lost. If we fall prey to Theodore Roosevelt's contention that "money is how we keep score," then we rise and fall with the stock market, and our identity is purely paper gains and losses.

If I were a "rich man," I wouldn't be very valuable. A Visa card can't offer sympathy, a T-bond can't read bedtime stories and a stock option can't help make a minyan.

Jonah was asked by his fellow shipmates, "What is your occupation? Where do you come from and what is your name?" He replied, "I am a Hebrew and I fear G‑d." My W-2 is not who I am, my relationship with G‑d is. What I do for a living is not what I do with my life.

A woman once asked the Rebbe's blessing to become a typist to help support her family. The Rebbe replied, "Type to support your family but don't become a typist."

The news reported that Americans were reexamining their priorities and adjusting their shopping habits. There may be something redemptive about that. This current downturn in the economy is an opportunity to discover who we are, without all the trappings we can see that a whole lot more clearly.