Purim and Pesach: The Bulls and Bears Revisited (Ideas #120)


I am sure very few readers remember or know that my very first “Ideas” was born from experiences in the stock market. Over ten years ago, a brief incursion into this field led me to write certain insights about the need for having a long-term vision.

Those were the days when the market was fun. Or at least more fun than now. At the time, the common wisdom was that over the long term no investment could compare with stocks. Yes, there would be dips and someone who needed a quick return was warned to stay out but, by and large, anyone with extra capital was easily enticed to this avenue of investing. Though the market may well be less fun today than a decade ago, it is likely that it can still teach us more than one important lesson.

Experts will still tell us that stocks are a good investment. Of course, they will say it very quietly, with a certain amount of queasiness and quite a bit more humility. The consumer, however, is less inclined to hear their words. Certainly, the volatility of markets invites caution. But it is more than caution that most of us exhibit. After absorbing such deep losses, we have a hard time believing these experts at all.   

It is always easier to see the long term when it does not differ that much from the short term. A little dip is very easy to take philosophically. In such a situation, it is easy to impress everyone with the great wisdom one displays by looking at the long term. A cataclysmic downturn is another story altogether. It is perhaps in such a context that we can better relate to the famous British economist, John Maynard Keynes’ quip that in the long term, we are all dead! Living one moment a time, it is sometimes hard to derive solace from the notion that things are likely to be better in the future, especially if we don’t know whether we will see that future. At the same time, historical perspective gives us a context in which to better understand our lives lived in the relative short term such as they are. It allows our intuitive sense to make order out of a slew of otherwise unconnected events and so to better understand our own existence.

Indeed, were we not to tap into the long term how could we daily bless G-d for building Jerusalem, bringing the redemption and redeeming the Jews, all in present tense, as we do three times a day in the amidah prayer? (If this makes a bit more sense today in the context of the modern State of Israel, we need to remember that Jews did not refrain from uttering these words in the darkest of the dark ages as well.) The Jew realizes that he lives in a long term process of redemption and, no matter how depressing the short term might be, he feels liberated by knowing that he is part of a valuable long-term progression – a progression that may actually require downturns to move towards redemption, but a process towards redemption nonetheless.

We are now in the season of faith-building that begins at Purim and ends at Pesach. More than at any time in our calendar, it is a season when we remember the long term. It is a time of reading the Megillah and recounting the Haggadah. In this context, we may first be surprised to recall that these documents tell us about processes that pass through the darkest times in Jewish history. And yet there are few times that surpass the joy of these readings. Year after year, we are overwhelmed by the bird’s eye clarity of these presentations. Through them, we are able to see that the context of darkness was one of deliverance and of unparalleled Divine revelation

As a people, being able to see a bright future throughout the worst of times has allowed us to survive. Knowing that there are generations that will follow and carry on our mission and lead mankind to communion with G-d has certainly given more than one Jew the sense that no matter how hard, there is reason to keep going, to have and raise children and above all, to stay Jewish.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that a key to Jewish longevity is the awareness of longevity itself.