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Beit Midrash Family and Society the financial meltdown

About the current financial meltdown

Fraud

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The current financial meltdown that is visiting the world has many different results, influences and revelations that stem from this sad event. One of the most troubling revelations is the amount of fraud in billions of dollars that have now been uncovered. It is historically proven that every great financial meltdown uncovers great fraud as well. As long as everything is going upwards and increasing in value on paper there is a lot of room for fraudulent practices to continue and remain undiscovered. But when the bubble bursts and the downturn occurs these frauds become self-evident and public. Thus to a certain extent, the downturns in the markets and the economies of the world are like a receding tide of the sea that reveals the detritus of the oceans when the waters that once covered them are no longer present. Unfortunately many of the fraudulent schemes now being revealed involve people of prominence in the Jewish community. This is a sad example of how wealth can corrupt even the most philanthropic and generous of people. It is a fulfillment of the words of Moshe that when some Jews wax rich and fat they somehow kick away their moral restraints and become prisoners of their drive – almost necessity – to amass greater wealth. King Solomon stated that the two tests of life are poverty and great wealth. Both tax one’s faith and dominate one’s life. But both are not absolutes but are relative situations. In a society where everyone in one’s knowledge is not wealthy then I am not poor though I lack luxuries and any extra money. In such a society someone that has an extra suit or shirt is considered wealthy. King Solomon warned that the danger of poverty is that one will be tempted to steal. A wealthy person who feels one’s self to be poor – who is determined to pursue the nymph of "more" – is poor and therefore the temptation to steal remains very strong within that person.

The great temptations that lie in attempting to earn a great deal of money are recorded for us throughout the Shulchan Aruch and the Talmud. The Torah does not grant room for fraudulent practices in the world of commerce. Noble goals such as having wealth to distribute to charity never justify false and unethical means in obtaining that wealth. We are all tempted by all wealth and by means of obtaining unrealistic returns on our investments. One should always be wary of those who promise great returns with minimum risks. In the real world these fantasies really never exist. It is amazing to me how wise and successful business people and so-called financial experts themselves fall prey to such pie in the sky schemes and propositions. It is only the drive for having "more" at all costs that drives us to be blinded by greed and lose our sense of wisdom and proportion in these matters. Almost all rabbis that I know, and I humbly include myself in this group, can testify that out of the many halachic issues that people present before them very few of them concern business practices or monetary matters. It is almost a given that that section of halacha is not really pertinent to our behavior and times. It takes a great financial crisis such as the one we are currently experiencing to bring home to us how really exacting and pertinent these values and laws of monetary halacha really are to us. If one does not keep these Torah values in mind at all times, the temptations of "more" will always overwhelm us.

I make no moral judgments about other people, especially when they have now been publicly humiliated and brought low. I remember very well the temptations thrust upon a seemingly successful investor or developer when people who wanted "more" literally came and thrust large sums of money at such a person asking for an unreasonable return on their money. It is hard to turn down money that is being thrown at you, especially when it is other people’s money that one is putting at risk. Only a strong sense of morality and honesty can withstand such pressures. The Talmud teaches us that it is not the mouse that steals but rather the hole in the wall that allows the mouse to enter the premises that is the true robber. Those who throw their money at others in order to always obtain the maximum "more" are complicit in the fraud and in the eventual disaster that emanates from such practices. The downturn in the world’s economy will at least flush out a great deal of the fraud existing therein – at least until the cycle turns again and the greed for "more" will fuel the next series of frauds.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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