Wednesday, September 17, 2008

credit crunch

People usually call on hashgacha to explain the seemingly miraculous good that sometimes happens, e.g. in your typical chassidishe ma'aseh a person in need of a dowry for a daughter or some other tzorech will do some good deed and then happen upon a business deal or a lost wallet that contains precisely the sum of money needed. What are the odds of coming upon a lost wallet containing exactly the right sum, or finding a deal that results in exactly the needed gain at the right moment given the natural course of events? Such coincidence (it is claimed) can only be the result of Divine intervention.

I won't try to dissuade anyone from thinking along these lines, but the sword is double-edged. I don't know what it says about my personality, but I always find it easier to apply the same reasoning to negative outcomes rather than positive. Sometimes a ma'aseh turns out so badly that it seems only Divine intervention can explain what happened. When you consider a 158 year old company (Lehman Bros.) drive to bankrupcy in the course of weeks, insurance giants (AIG) reduced to nothing, banks one after the other on the verge of failure, one is faced with either assuming the best minds in business simultaneously have all been overtaken by a bout of very contagious stupid disease, or someone up there is pulling the strings in ways that are just out of everyone's control.

R' Elchanan in one of his ma'amarim, which if I recall correctly has no date attached but must have been written in the '30s, writes that the failing of the economy (at the time of his writing) was not caused by a lack of money, as plenty of people still had fortunes and great wealth. The economy failed because of a loss of confidence in the institutions of finance - a loss of faith in the economic system. What was true then is certainly true today, as the credit crunch is primarily a loss of confidence and trust. The key to understanding this phenomenon is the principle of middah k'neged middah. R' Elchahan writes that a loss of faith in worldly institutions comes about because of the greater loss of faith in our spiritual institutions - a failing of emunah. And only through the strengthening of emunah can we find the tools to emerge from such a crisis.

I am not a big fan of prophetically trying to attribute specific outcomes or events to specific sins, but I pass on R' Elchanan's insight for whatever it's worth. It's certainly worth spending a minute thinking about as the Dow and S & P find their way to lower and lower depths.


  1. Anonymous10:12 AM

    Good hearah and well presented.

  2. can you please send to me the place of R. Elchanan Wasserman's comments within his Maamarim

  3. in the black 2 vol edition I have it is on page 17 (sorry for the delay in responding - the credit crunch is producing a time crunch thanks to work related problems)

  4. Anonymous10:17 PM

    i think i have a different edition - could you say in which maamar it is found - or better still post the relevant passage ? thanks