Can we hedge the future?
I have a question for those who invested heavily during the 1990’s in real estate, stocks and bonds.
How is your investment working out?
If you are like most, your house is worth less than it was a decade or two ago, and your financial investments are providing a yield far less than you anticipated.
What to do?
Throughout the generations, while there have been times when our best laid financial plans have yielded positive returns, more often than not, circumstances which we could never have envisioned have rerouted our predictions, and have brought us to a state of anxiety and uncertainty.
Could we have ever predicted the collapse of American banks or for that matter the heinous events and aftermath of 9/11?
Indeed, buffering ourselves from the uncertain future by stockpiling our material investments is like trying to win next week’s Mega Millions jackpot by repeating last week’s winning numbers. Combinations rarely repeat themselves.
The idea of ensuring future happiness was on the minds of our Sages centuries ago as they reviewed one particular line from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.
To set the stage, Moses has begun delivering his final address to the Israelites after wandering the desert for forty years. Moses won’t be entering the Promised Land with them, but he wants to ensure that the Israelites are spiritually grounded prior to their arrival.
Moses warns the Israelites that difficult times lay ahead, and that there is no foolproof way to either avoid or predict the future.
Moses tells the people, “the life you face shall be precarious…..with no assurance of survival.” (Deuteronomy 28:66). The ancient rabbis seize on this notion, stressing that by trying to outrun the future by stockpiling materialism, or by worrying about a future we cannot predict, we rob ourselves of one of life’s greatest gifts – the present.
Indeed, the Torah warns us against “hedging our bets” by consulting soothsayers, and clairvoyants. Similarly, today so many rely heavily on horoscopes, psychic readings and many online sites to divine the future.
While listening to the words of psychics at the local mall or county fair may provide a harmless diversion, The Torah instructs us not to rely on these tools. Our rabbis viewed them as distractive diversions.
Noted the great 20th century rabbi Chayim Shmulevitz, if we constantly worry about the future, we will cause ourselves mental anguish in the present, and will never have peace of mind.
Indeed, obsessing about the future, particularly when times are good, leads to a distraction of the soul. He noted the importance of having self-discipline and never dwelling on what is missing in our lives, unless we have a better plan in mind.
Pirkei Avot, our ancient collection of rabbinical sayings observes, “Who is the person who is rich? The person who is content with their portion.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
To be clear, it is important to plan for the future. Savings and prudent investments are vital as we look to diffuse what we earn now to sustain us for the future. But to spend our entire lives obsessed with predicting the unpredictable only condemns us to a life of spiritual anguish.
The answer according to our tradition is to make a parallel investment in our spiritual life. That means feeding our souls, and striving for peace of mind.
We find such peace in long walks, by listening to a good joke, reading a book, or spending quality time with family and friends.
With barely a week remaining until the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, we are beckoned by this week’s Torah reading put aside our financial anxieties and focus on our spiritual destiny.
Are we happy? Are we fulfilled? Are we truly rich?
The great 20th century rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim noted that “everyone has something to worry about.” That is a given. But offered advice to spare us from worrying about a future which defies prediction. He taught that it is preferable for a person to worry about spiritual matters, and this will help liberate a person from material obsession.
Let us strive in our own lives to achieve a balance between the two.
It behooves us now with the Days of Judgment approaching to examine how we are investing our spiritual assets.
For when the end of our time arrives, and we enter the world of souls, will we be able to say that we used our spiritual assets wisely?
Did we spend our days attempting to outmaneuver the unknown, or did we devote our life force towards the most important investment of all – our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our family, and humanity.
How are we investing the currency of time? For I can guarantee that care, kindness and compassion will pay off in terms of a more satisfying life.
The same cannot be said about the material world.
For in the end, it is only internal peace which can guide us through the cooked paths of the unknown.
Shabbat shalom, Shannah Tovah.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman