It's up. It's down. It's really, really, really down. Wait, it's going up. So it has been with the financial markets over the past few months. From scandals to bankrupcies, foreclosures and unemployment, any sense of security has vanished. It is devastating, destructive, overwhelming, historic. This has been the tsunami of the dollar. And in its path it has left people uprooted and fearing the unknown.

In everything that happens, a Jew looks for a lesson, something to be learned and gained from every situation. We are taught that every year, before Rosh Hashanah, our Creator determines the sustenance and material resources each and every one of us will receive during the year. So now, with that perspective, this whole situation is pretty interesting. Let's say it was determined that you will have one million dollars this year. During the year you worked really hard, and you saved and you were so careful with how you spent your money. But no matter what you did, your total earnings were $500,000. Then one day, you receive a bonus at work, or an investment comes through, or you win the lottery, and suddenly you have another $500,000. You feel like the richest person in the world. You cannot believe how fortunate you are, how blessed. You have experienced a real miracle.

This has been the tsunami of the dollarYet, what if during the year you had two million dollars in your bank account? You had become accustomed to having two million dollars at your fingertips. And then, one day, the market crashes and now you only have one million dollars. You feel devastated, cheated, robbed. How can life be so unfairly cruel? Why were you punished?

If you were intended to have one million dollars, then no matter how you get there, by gaining or by losing, that is what you were intended to have. Granted, it is a lot easier to appreciate that money when you had less to start with, but, in truth, viewing it as a gift is the only way to see things in the proper light.

The other night I was teaching a class on the mitzvah, the special divine commandment entrusted to women, of "challah." Challah is a mitzvah associated with bread, the most fundamental and foundational food. All food is referred to as "bread." Though we think of the poor man's food as consisting of only bread and water, in Judaism bread has a special, elevated status. It is the food we bless on our Shabbat table, and it is the food that has a unique commandment in the process of making it.

When we are appreciative, we are givingIn the Ethics of Our Fathers (3:21) it states, "If there is no flour, there is no Torah, if there is no Torah, there is no flour." "Flour," in this context, refers to food in general, and by extension, to all our material needs (also in English, "dough" or "bread" is slang for money). Clearly, without the ability to pay for our basic necessities, one would not be able to learn Torah or keep its commandments. Simultaneously, if you leave the Torah out – if one's entire focus is on financial success and making money, and one fails to recognize that everything we have is a gift from Above – then the "flour" won't stick either.

The mitzvah of challah is not making the bread or eating the bread. The commandment is separating a portion of the dough, before it is formed, which is given as a gift to our Creator. It is a small piece, but it is an essential piece. Without removing that piece, the commandment has not been fulfilled, a blessing cannot be made, and the bread is not to be eaten. This act of separation is recognizing that even though I made that bread, even though I mixed all the ingredients and kneaded it and worked with it, and even though the outcome will be something delicious and satiating for those who eat it, I recognize that it is all a gift. I was a part of the process, but I was only a vessel. I am not the ultimate Creator.

So looking back at the financial crisis, I see it also as a lesson, a wake up call, a big reminder that everything we have in this physical world is temporary. If we are given it, it is for us to use, and to use properly. When we make money, we are obligated to give a minimum of 10% to those less fortunate than ourselves. This is not "charity," for charity implies that we have given something beyond what is required of us. This 10% is given, not as a gift, but as a requirement, for it is not considered our money to begin with.

How much more so if we could view the other 90% as a gift that we have been given. Of course we want to enjoy our lives and live well. And we should. But we must always remember that we are vessels into which the Almighty has entrusted whatever resources we have. We are not the creator of those resources.

The financial market will most likely go back up. It could even skyrocket. And it would be wonderful if those who lost their money could regain it. But I very much hope that along with a financial spike will come a spike in our awareness and our sensitivity. If we realize that the same way it can be taken away from us in an instant, it can also be restored, then we will realize that we need to be grateful for everything we have at every moment. For when we are appreciative, we are giving.

May we be granted the financial resources that we so desperately need and want, and if so blessed, may we use them wisely, help others, and never forget where they came from in the first place.