Thursday, February 13, 2014

'amida (berakha 9) , "Make us rich... and save us from Affluenza"

The 9th berakha of the Amida, barekhenu or barekh alenu, is the blessing in which we ask haShem to grant our livelihood (parnasa).

This blessing focuses specifically on requesting dew, rain, a good year's crop, and a successful production of vegetables and fruits.  We ask HaShem to provide us material blessings and protect our source of livelihood from weather inclemencies and other natural disasters.

We particularly ask God to send rain. One of the most disastrous scenarios for the economy of Israel, and this is true even today,  is a period of drought.  Rain coming on its due time is God's blessing to the people of Israel, as it is explicitly recorded in the Shema Israel. We also learned in the second part of the Shema that rain in the land of Israel is conditioned to the people of Israel's keeping God's Covenant. The Tora describes a sort of cause/effect dynamics between the People of Israel's behavior and Israel's skies. Heavens of the Holy Land are not governed by the rules of nature but by God's retribution or reward to Israel's loyalty.

Although this berakha refers exclusively to the agricultural aspects of Israel's economy, because it was conceived for the ancient Israel nation, when Jews dedicated mostly to agriculture, it also alludes to our general economic success. This berakha implicitly includes our request to God to bless our sources of livelihood in present times: our businesses, our jobs, our investments, etc. 

Another important thing we learn from this berakha is that we specifically ask God to send rain as 'blessing' (tal umatar librakha). In other words, we expect to receive whatever rain is needed for the land, and not more than that! Rain in excess is the opposite of blessing.  Similarly, in many areas of material life, excess might be counterproductive.  Material excess can turn into a psychological "disorder", which might affect us and our children, known as "Affluenza" 1. The feelings of unfulfillment and frustration that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by tireless pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to consumption.   

We should ask HaShem to bless us, providing us with what we really need.   

More on asking God in excess of
what you really need
"How the Lives of 10 Lottery Millionaires went Disastrously Wrong" (from

Who wants to be a millionaire? Most people, surely (except billionaires of course). But sadly, winning a truck-load of money on the lottery, any lottery, comes with a heap of baggage. Daydreams of a millionaire lifestyle seem to have a habit of turning sour faster than a sub-prime mortgage, isolation, paranoia, drugs, crime, poverty and prison await those who fail to adjust, as this top ten of 'Lottery Losers' shows:

1. Jack Whittaker won a record $314.9m Powerball Jackpot in 2002. But life since then has been a long list of arrests, lawsuits, broken relationships and even death. In 2007, his then wife, Jewell admitted she wished she had 'torn up the ticket'.

2. William "Bud" Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lotrery in 1988. He later described the experience as a nightmare and wishes it had never happened - who can blame him after he was sued by a former girlfriend eager to get her hands on the cash and his brother hired a hitman in the hope of inheriting the winnings. He invested in ill-fated family businesses and within a year was $1m in debt. Today he gets by on social security payments.

3. Luke Pittard from Wales won a 'measly' £1.3m on the National Lottery. After the novelty worn off and the obligatory lavish holiday, wedding and new home were done and dusted, he got bored and returned to work at MacDonalds.

4. An as-yet-unnamed Sicilian won £79m on the Italian lottery in 2008. Before he or she could even collect the winnings consumer groups were demanding that the windfall be seized by the government. The winner has since gone into hiding, fearing the Mafia will come calling.

5. Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. Her generosity in giving money to a variety of political, educational and community causes was commendable - but just eight years later she filed for bankruptcy.

6. Mark Gardiner from London won $ 11m in 1995. Thirteen miserable years later, he hasn't lost his money, but he has lost all his friends - even the ones he treated to new £100,000 homes - and lost touch with his family.

7. Michael Carroll won a £9.7m National Lottery Jackpot in 2002. Since then he has appeared in court more than 30 times and been jailed for drug related offences. In 2008, he admitted that 'just' £500,000 of his windfall remained.

8. Willie Hurt won 3.1 million in 1989. Two years later the money  was gone and he was on a murder charge. Hurt spent his fortune on a divorce and crack cocaine.

9. Charles Riddle won $1 million in 1975. The original lottery car crash, he quickly got divorced, faced several lawsuits and was eventually indicted for selling cocaine.

10. Ken Proxmire won $1 million in the Michigan Lottery.He moved to California and invested in a car business with his brothers. Five years later, he was bankrupt and back working as a machinist.