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Ask the Rabbi - 303

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February 10, 2001 / 17 Shevat 5761; Issue #303

Taking Stock


Marvin Peyser wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Here is a question for you. I own stocks in some companies that are not doing too well these days. (What stock is?) Anyway, some of these companies just announced massive layoffs, in the tens of thousands. This will result in lower costs, therefore greater profits, and I'm liable to make some money on it when the stock subsequently rises. (One company's stock went up 5% just with the announcement of the layoffs.)

My question is: I would like to feel joyful that my stock will rise, but then I am reminded that tens of thousands of families will have lost their income. This is a dilemma. Is there any Torah insight on this?

Dear Marvin Peyser,

First, I'd like to say that your question shows a great deal of sensitivity, compassion, and market savvy.

How should you feel when others lose their jobs while your stock rises? Bad and good. Feel bad that others have lost their jobs, and glad that your stocks went up.

The Talmud actually deals with this idea of relating to contradictory emotional stimuli. The Talmud's example regards how to relate to a parent's death when at the same time that death brings financial relief to the child.

If someone hears that his father has died, leaving him and his brothers an inheritance, what blessing does he say? Should he say, "Blessed is G-d, the True Judge," which is the blessing accepting G-d's will upon hearing sad news? Or, should he say "Blessed is He who is Good and who bestows good," which is the blessing for good news which benefits him and others, such as here where he and his brothers have become wealthy?

The Talmud states that he should say both blessings. First the blessing for the bad news, and afterwards the blessing for the good news.

This can be understood as recognition that people can feel contradictory emotions; an event which has positive and negative aspects can be experienced as such. I think an important part of this lesson is that a person shouldn't feel guilty for experiencing the happy aspects of a bad situation. It doesn't necessarily mean that he is insensitive.

With that, I would like to tell you a true story. A rabbi I know once called the police to report his teenage son, last seen riding his bicycle, missing. Later that day the police phoned asking the rabbi to come and view the body of a boy, matching his son's description, who had been hit by a car while riding his bike.

The Rabbi later told that while he and his wife were in the car on their way to identify the body, he had hoped for a fleeting moment that the sight which would greet his eyes would not be that of his son. "But if it's not my son," he realized, "then it will be someone else's son, and my joy will be someone else's tragedy. If it is my son, others will be spared."

That thought gave him courage and helped him accept the sight that did greet his eyes, the sight of his beloved son.

  • Tractate Berachot 59b

The Great Debate


Bill Hoffman wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What blessing or prayer is inside a mezuzah? Please answer a debate I am having with a relative. I say it is the "Shema!" Thank you!

Dear Bill Hoffman,

What does your relative say?

But seriously, a mezuzah is a scroll which the Torah tells us to put on our doorways. Written upon this scroll are the first two paragraphs of the "Shema." That is, the 15 verses from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

So, Bill, it looks like you've won the first round! But Jewish study is an ongoing process, and the World Champion is the person who never gives up the fight!

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.



I am a girl from Portland Oregon (yes, there are some religious people here...) And I want to say how much I appreciate the last "Simcha's Torah Stories" email you sent out. You really got me to try and make sure that I should do more mitzvos. Thank you again.

T.I., Portland, Oregon


"...You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews -- this is God's own truth... All men of good will exult in the fulfillment of God's promise, that his People should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land. This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less... And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism... Let my words echo in the depths of your soul: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews -- make no mistake about it."

From "This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. " (New York, 1971), pp. 234-235.
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Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
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