Our Grandparents

I stand in awe of my grandparents' generation, who fought two world wars and overcame a depression in the span of three short decades. They stood up to the twin evils of Nazism and Communism and created peace, stability and even prosperity. They did not have the luxuries we take for granted; they made do with less. But they had a solid work ethic and an unshakable confidence that life was good then and would be even better in the future.

We have replaced the almighty G‑d with the almighty dollarCharlie Adler, a Canadian Radio Show host, recently asked why our forbearers, who had less than us, looked forward with optimism, while we, who have more than they ever did, are pessimistic about our future. Daily headlines warn us of market meltdowns and a severe oncoming depression while blogs, magazines and op-eds warn of collapsing empires, environmental calamities and mega terror attacks.

There is an old adage in the news business that bad news sells. But it only sells because we, the consumers, are interested in such news. The question is why. Why are we so eager to believe the prophets of doom? What filled our ancestors with confidence and fills us with foreboding?


One caller suggested that it is rooted in our lack of faith. Our grandparents believed in G‑d and were thus imbued with a basic faith about the future. Our generation has relinquished its faith in G‑d and placed its hope in its own resourcefulness. We have replaced the almighty G‑d with the almighty dollar. When our ambition creates a blanket of financial security we can view the future with promise. But when our security blanket wears thin there is little left to buoy us and we fill instead with foreboding.

The religious values that provided comfort and security two generations ago were discarded in the last generation. Religious ethics were rejected as prohibitive and restrictive. Religion and faith were turned in for freedom, peace, humanism and love. Discipline, ethics and values were turned in for indulgence, greed and excess. This carried us for a while. It increased our ambition, enhanced our productivity and we reaped generous reward.

But ambition and creativity alone cannot keep us atop the dynamic forces that buffet us in life for long; we were bound to crash. When the gravy train slowed down it was time to turn back to the values that built our great nation. But by the time we were ready to turn back we found there was nothing to turn back to. We had journeyed so far from our original mindset that return was inconceivable.

It is rare to find a failing business person today who maintains confidence in the future on account of faith. But without faith it is difficult to muster the enthusiasm necessary to get up in the morning. Without this bedrock it is nearly impossible to resist the gloomy forecasts that stare us in the face. How do we pull ourselves up, when we have spent decades dragging ourselves down?

In Egypt

The ancient Egyptians were struck with ten plagues. The order of the plagues is instructive, first the waters turned to blood and then the waters filled with frogs.

Religious apathy and breaches of faith do not occur in a vacuumEgypt is an arid land; its only source of irrigation is the Nile. The Nile thus represents the source of material bounty in the Nile Delta. Blood represents warmth, enthusiasm and a love for life. The Nile turning to blood thus symbolized excessive preoccupation with and excitement for materialism.

Frogs are amphibious creatures, born in the sea. They are cold blooded creatures, which on a symbolic level represents spiritual apathy. There is an apathetic spectrum which stretches from initial seeds of doubt to full blown antipathy toward all things G‑dly. This spectrum is represented by the frog.

Egypt was not stricken with frogs until after they were stricken with blood. This tells us that religious apathy and breaches of faith do not occur in a vacuum. It is only after we become overly exuberant about our material successes that seeds of religious doubt are planted. When we put too much stock in material achievement and take excessive delight in material indulgence we dull the voice of our soul and its calling of faith.

Retracing our Steps

When faced with a financial downturn we must embrace a posture of confidence in the future. Not a confidence born of bravado, but one rooted in faith. We must remember the values that generated our past success. We must restore our willingness to work hard, our optimistic and hopeful outlook and our serenity born of faith.

To accomplish this we must first reverse the plague of blood, our excessive emphasis on material success. Only then can we address the second plague, that of frogs, by replanting our faith and reigniting our passion for G‑d.

Moving from a mindset of entitlement to a mindset of commitment, centering our minds on G‑d's blessing rather than our net worth, are the ingredients that nurture recovery and growth. When we thank G‑d for crowning our ambitions with success and humbly attribute our wellbeing to His largess we move from narcissism and entitlement to gratitude and commitment. We become willing to work hard and earn our living rather than sit back and demand assistance. We become willing to look after ourselves, rather than demand that others do it for us.

With this internal transformation we lay the bricks of rebuilding. We invest in our children, our communities and our future. We turn to G‑d in humility, but with certainty; in supplication, but with confidence in our success. With this mindset we can avoid a depression and journey on the path of continued growth.