Hat Tip: One reader who expects many more to email me with the same story. Thanks! I would *not* have caught this one myself.
I hope I don't alienate any readers by questioning the spiritual/financial advice given by the very popular Rabbi Lazar Brody, but the "Emunah option" is based on flawed logic, is guaranteed to make the problem worse, and is likely to cause default on debts which I don't believe is a proper approach from a Torah perspective even if default isn't assur.
With all due apologies, this advice is this week's installment of "Bad Financial Advice."
Rabbi Brody gives advice on the following situation:
We all have seemingly insurmountable problems. Many of them have no
logical solution. Here's a typical example:
John earns $65,000 annually. His minimal living expenses total $70,000. He already owes $40,000, and he foresees his debt increasing by $5000 per year, even before considering the interest he'll have to pay. According to logic, John has no hope; if he views his own situation from "logical" eyes, then he's a candidate for despair, depression, and even worse. He may come to the point where he won't even be able to earn his $65,000 any more, and then his situation will become much worse.
The solution Rabbi Brody offers is:
- Don't succumb to negative thoughts.
- Believe that the Almighty runs the universe and can send a myriad of solutions at any moment.
- Strengthen yourself in emunah and believe Hashem will help because for Hashem miracles are natural.
- Use the emunah solution to turn defeat into victory as no-win situations are the history of our people.
Number 1: Financial problems are not "insurmountable," nor are they without a "logical solution." A family with more expenses than income has options, perhaps unpleasant options (many of them temporary), but options nonetheless. Telling a person that the $5,000 gap between income and expenses plus the previous debt is a "no-win" situation is, quite frankly, is disingenuous.
Number 2: By reinforcing the "logic" that the problem is "insurmountable" you reinforce the feeling of powerlessness that leads to despair and depression which you advise him to overcome through some sort of "emunah option." Chazal didn't compare debt to the bite of a snake for nought. Mounting debt is a terrible predicament, but it can be resolved!
Number 3: This understanding of Torah is completely foreign to me, yet those who promote this form of Torah are immensely popular and increasingly so if you judge by the tzedakah marketing based on promises of segulot and yeshuot. Emunah without hishtadlut? We learn that the Yam Suf was parted when Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped in demonstrating that emunah. Financial problem can be overcome, but certainly not by ignoring the laws of the universe that too were established by Hashem. The mathematics behind compounding interest is also the making of Hashem. Want to beat the compounding interest and take a step towards freedom? Make some drastic changes: find additional sources of income, start selling stuff, cut expenses, pay down debt, and use the "found money" you no longer using to pay so much interest to continue. The Rambam gives us eight different levels of tzedakah. The highest level is to help a person become financially independent. Every day that debt mounts is a loss of independence. The advice did not contain a single suggestion about turning around the situation, instead the Rabbi offers the advice to essentially wait for a miracle. Didn't chazal say something about not relying on miracles?
One of the things I hope to accomplish through my blog is to help promote a feeling of control over our lives and our finances. I believe it was Rav Moshe Feinstein who said that statement "it is hard to be a Jew" ruined an entire generation. I think that throwing up our hands and reinforcing that "it is expensive to be a Jew" is basically proclaiming "it is hard to be a Jew."
If "John" is a real person who wrote to Rabbi Brody, but there are a log of "Johns" in the frum community and I do hope someone else offers John some practical advice that will ultimately give him some real emunah. John, take control and gain menuchat hanefesh as you get the burden of debt off your shoulders and re-gain your freedom. Hatzlacha!