September 7, 2009
Rebalancing our spiritual portfolios
The economic downturn has caused many of us to think long and hard about rebalancing our investment portfolios, reducing expenses, and readjusting our priorities when faced with a job loss, the loss of retirement income or looming medical bills.
We know that recovering and prospering economically will take thought and effort. We know there really are no shortcuts to riches. Difficult as it may be, the reality of a recession is something with which we are ready to deal.
And yet in our Jewish lives, we often turn to the spiritual equivalent of get-rich-quick schemes. Somehow we hope that just by showing up in the synagogue for three days in the fall, magic will happen and we will emerge with a sense of direction and fulfillment in our lives. Many of us will find ourselves disappointed yet again, as we have in years past, in our quest for spirituality and meaning.
Just as we manage our economic lives, soberly evaluating the realities and planning for the future, we also need to manage our spiritual lives. Considering how important a meaningful life is to every one of us, it’s time to rebalance our spiritual portfolios, taking some time away from the pursuit and management of our worldly affairs so that we can pursue and manage our lives in the spiritual world.
Rebalance your portfolio
Finding the right balance in our spiritual portfolios means looking at what we actually spend our time on and comparing it to what we would really like to be spending our time on. Like dieters who use calorie counting to become aware of what they eat during a day, we can take a hard look at the empty minutes and hours that we devote to activities that don’t give us any spiritual nutrition. Think how many times a day you check e-mail. Think how many half-hours you spend watching television.
Keep a log for a day. You may be surprised at the amount of time you spend on things that don’t move you forward. Now think how you might make your investments of time perform more robustly and securely. For 30 minutes a day, you could attend a morning or evening prayer service at your synagogue connecting with yourself, a community of searchers like you and sometimes with God.
Research and diversify your investments
Many of us are walking around with Jewish educations that are the equivalent of passbook savings accounts. They were great when we were kids and could see how the pennies added up, but adults need more powerful investment tools. Spiritually, we artificially impoverish ourselves if we try to navigate life with child-sized Jewish educations.
It’s time to do the due diligence of life because life does not wait. You can start by diversifying your Jewish learning. Try some Jewish texts—Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Zohar, Chasidic stories, Israeli poetry—and find a mix that works for you based on your own tolerance for risk. Risk, that is, of learning something that just may change your life.
Start an investment club
Judaism is a group activity. Just as it’s hard to make investment decisions on your own, it might be worthwhile to form the equivalent of an investment club. Talk to your rabbi about what you’d like to learn, and see if you can get a class started with others who want to learn, too. You can singlehandedly start a bull market of Jewish learning in your community!
Add to your 613(k) plan
The traditional count of 613 commandments means that there are that many ways for us to connect to our Jewish selves—and to our ancestors and other Jews today. There may be no tax advantages to a 613(k) plan, but the long-term value is clear.
Start making small daily, weekly and monthly time investments in growing as a person and as a Jew. Often we are just reciting how returning to our true selves, talking frankly with God in prayer and speaking to the people around us in this world through acts of righteousness can annul the severity of our decree for the coming year—the traditional formulation in the mahzor noting that while we are judged for our sins, we are nonetheless given the benefit of God’s mercy when we engage in the right kind of behavior.
This year, imagine how powerful it would be to actually do these things. The decree itself may remain unchanged, but when we know that we are actively working to reconnect with ourselves, our families and our tradition, we will be far better prepared to deal with what life sends our way in the coming year.
“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed ... who will be impoverished and who will be enriched.” This High Holiday season, let’s start rebuilding our spiritual portfolios.
(Steven Schwarzman, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008, is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor.)