Sunday, December 10, 2023 -
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The D word

Just how does one pray on Yom Kippur and Sukkot when the world might be headed for a ?. . . depression?

What will become of people and institutions that depend on tzedakah, not to mention our personal finances?

An occupational hazard of writing a weekly column is that much can change between the time you write and the time you are read. As I write, the world economy is in a nosedive. I will rejoice if this column turns out to be irrelevant and unread; if, between the time I write and you read, the economy has rebounded. Gazing from Oct. 6, however, I wonder:

What is the priority in prayer —  health, or a roof over the head? Silly, you say: Health trumps everything. Everybody knows that.

Is it so simple? If the choice is between health and all that we have become accustomed to — cars with air conditioning, homes with extra rooms, remodeling almost as a birthright, periodic rendezvous with family in other places — then health is the obvious choice.

But if we face a time not only without air conditioning in the car, but without a car; not only without remodeled homes, but without a home; would we trade medicine for a roof? The answer is not obvious. Already, many cannot privilege health (such as medicine) over food.

As Americans face the possibility of major readjustments in lifestyle, our teachers will become the best in our human spirit. If not that, our teachers will be those all over the world who never asked, what’s first, healthcare or posesssions?, because they never had either.

Perhaps so many of our customs will become quaint in retrospect: ball players who make millions, big screen TVs, gourmet coffee, four daily methods of electronic communication (cell, voice mail, Internet, text) — and tzedakah checks that don’t hurt.

Is a more spare life less satisfying? Are the endless add-ons of life in America actually clutter?

Is our fate really determined more by who is elected president than by what we pray for?

Try as I might, in my prayers I cannot place a number of items ahead of life, health and family joys, though it would be obtuse to deny that if one lacks the resources to visit a hospital or a relative, health and family may be beyond reach. If we are headed for (plug in the D word), we shall face difficult choices.

Like the parents of many of my readers, mine told me about the Depression. Food lines. Wanderers. Bankruptcies. Fear. Unsung heroes who stayed poor the rest of their lives in order to pay back the debts they incurred before the Depression, even though no one else was doing that. I heard these stories. I read The Grapes of Wrath. It was a great book, and they were great stories, but I didn’t really get them. I still don’t. I hope I never do. Never been there, never done that. But I’m wondering.

The financial analysts display the inevitable upward graph of the stock market, starting with the 1920s. But in that long upward line, there are little squiggles. The longer the period of measurment — the greater the number of decades under analysis — the smaller the squiggles. Taken over a period of a year or three, however, the squiggles that poke downward represents painful times of suffering, boredom, anger and resentment.

Perhaps the answer to the question — how does one pray on Yom Kippur and Sukkot — really does include, alongside health: livelihood, dignity, resources.

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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