I haven't written about the Madoff scandal because I don't have anything to add that had not been editorialized, and also the story leaves me with tremendous sadness that I can't express well in writing.
However, I do want to discuss an attitude I have seen in many Orthodox blogs regarding the principal (and all of its future proceeds) that is lost forever. At the outset, I will just say that the lack of rachmanut/compassion is tremendously disheartening. The lack of respect for someone else's losses is quite astounding.
This letter to the editor in the Jewish Press expresses many of the opinions I've seen in the past month: the opinion that no person or organization should "hoard" money. Many commentors seem to take offense that not every penny is immediately given away. The choice of the word "hoard" is quite interesting because of it's definitively negative connotation. Halacha defines how much a person should give and keep of their own funds, and at least my own study of halachot on tzedakah and ma'aser seems to indicate that a person *should* have savings, and that lack of funds exempts one from optimal fulfillment of the mitzvot surrounding ma'aser. The halacha also does not require the wealthy to give it all away, although they are likely subject to a higher tzedakah requirement.
I have seen halachic sources throughout the years that endorse having an "emergency fund," and define one without liquid assets as "poor." Personal finance experts recommend having an emergency fund of 3 to 12 months of expenses on hand, depending on the vulnerability of one's employment situation. A person with larger obligations and responsibilities (perhaps a business owner with employees), will need a much larger emergency fund if he/she doesn't want to put their business at risk during economic downturns or make severe cuts in staff through unexpected layoffs.
Let's all take a deep collective breath and meditate on the latest goings-on ("Madoff Scandal Rocks Jewish Philanthropic world," news story, Dec. 19). The lives of the billionaires who've lost a couple million won't change much. As for the rest of us poor slobs who have taken to lowering the thermostat's temperature indoors due to the high cost of heating and today's precarious economic times, or who are wondering for the umpteenth time this year how our next month's mortgage payment will be met, we could sure do with some of that pocket change.
The language expressed also is that of envy and class warfare, an "us vs. them" mentality. Those millionaires and billionaires were not born as such. In fact, given their ages, many of them lived through The Great Depression. They worked hard, they took risks, and, yes, they probably turned down their thermostats to get themselves started in business. And while they were in business, they probably continued to scrimp and save to ensure that their businesses have two legs to stand on because the larger their businesses became, the more they needed to "hoard" because their obligations and responsibilities became larger. Their risk taking in starting businesses, their investments, their charitable giving, their tax paying, and even their spending have 'created' thousands on jobs. Perhaps some of us can credit a current or past job or client, directly or indirectly, to someone with wealth.
Truth be told, some of us are finding it difficult to muster much sympathy for the synagogues, organizations and institutions that decry their tens and hundreds of millions that have been sucked up in a whirlpool of fraud. Perhaps it is because of the ordinary folks we are personally acquainted with - like the ones who are spending sleepless nights over their children's school tuition that's been in arrears for too long now; or who are weighed down by the expense of an upcoming child's wedding that is an onerous burden to bear, to say the least; or who were recently laid off due to the sluggish economy and are now left wondering how long they have before their meager savings are depleted.
Passive income is the secret to a healthy budget, and perhaps the secret to getting a good night's rest. A budget that does not completely depend on what might come in tomorrow to pay yesterday's bills is a healthy budget. I don't want to see any one's "meager savings depleted" because what comes next is the exercise that too many Orthodox institutions, businesses, and families do every month. That exercise: let's decide who gets paid and who doesn't. Those who "hoarded" some funds along the way, don't have to do this dance month after month and can weather a down economy, at least for the short term.
I wish more "ordinary folks" had a little something "hoarded" in the bank so that they could get a better night's sleep.
So while all the big losers cry foul and shout "ganif!" at Bernie Madoff, forgive me for asking, "Why did you hoard that stash? Couldn't you have at least invested it in any number of free loan institutions that help alleviate the monetary hardships of the many needy among us?"
The answer, of course, is greed - and, ironically, investors are now mad at Madoff for his greed.
The investors with Madoff are reported to be generous donors. Many of the investors carefully set up foundations funded with the "[hoarded] stash" so that the money could continue to provide dividends for many generations to come. Perhaps their causes were not her causes (or my causes), but making sure that your tzedakah funds will continue to give many times over, certainly isn't my definition of "greed."
I too find it hard to relate to a multi-millionaire who has lost a sliver of their wealth (although there were also reports of individuals and families who really did loose everything and must start from scratch). But, the budget struggles in the frum community are not the fault of these wealthy individuals either and it is a low blow to suggest such.
The letter writer would do far better learning about how "The Millionaire Next Door" lives his/her life rather than stewing in anger that the wealthy are not doing enough for "us." If you want to sleep like a millionaire (even a millionaire who took a hit, as has everyone with nearly any investment aside from Walmart stock has), chances are the answer isn't buying a better mattress, but
Note: the book I link to above is an excellent read and worthy of a book review sometime in the future.