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by Lawrence Stroll    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This column tracks the e-mail correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba’al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for “more” (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.

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Dear Ari,

Things are not looking too good for me from a financial perspective. I was just at the supermarket and they refused my credit card. It seems that I was over my limit. Talk about embarrassment! On one hand, I can’t believe that I’ve run up my limit so quickly. On the other hand, I should have seen this coming—it’s not like it’s the first time this has ever happened to me. Unfortunately, whenever this happens, I somehow manage to refinance these debts, hoping that they’ll somehow disappear. Every time I consider tackling this issue, I just get discouraged. It seems so impossible to make any significant headway, that I just put the problem off till it rears its ugly head (as it did today in the supermarket). Suffice it to say that I think I’ve got my 2002 New Year’s resolution. Any thoughts on the matter?

Sincerely, Waiting for January 1st

 

Dear David, Sounds like it must have been a humiliating experience. I recall once having gone to pick up groceries for my wife and leaving the house about $20 short of what I needed. I can tell you that the experience of having to select which items stayed behind was enough to motivate me to always pack a few extra dollars in my pocket "just in case." Regarding your renewed interest in resolving your debt issue once and for all, this week’s Torah portion makes a strong case for not waiting until the new year to start making some headway.

This week’s Torah portion begins with a description of the offerings that were brought by the Jewish people for the purpose of building the Tabernacle; the transportable structure that served as a resting place for Hashem’s presence while the Jews were traveling through the desert. One of the items that were brought was acacia wood. Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, asks how the Jewish people obtained this particular item in the desert. Rabbi Tanchuma, a late fourth century Midrash on the Torah, insightfully explains that our forefather Jacob saw—through Divine inspiration—that the Israelites were destined to build the Tabernacle in the desert and, therefore, he brought cedars to Egypt and planted them and directed his children to take them along when they would leave Egypt.

There is a Chinese proverb that says that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The proverb continues, that the next best time is today. The profundity of this simple statement is remarkable. Certainly the best time to do anything for which we could derive benefit for today was "yesterday." But, as the Beatles reminded us, "yesterday" is indeed so far away. While we could spend time wallowing on what could have been, if we want to change our present predicament for our future benefit, we must focus on what is in our ability to do today.

Jacob’s foresight to plant trees that could be used at some point in the future should inspire us to take action right now. Nike ads during the last decade of the last century constantly encouraged us to, "Just do it!" Recognizing that the hardest step in any journey is certainly the first, I would strongly suggest that for your benefit you immediately begin digging your way out of your undesirable situation. I assure you that you will not see any progress in short order, nor will you feel that you have made a significant dent after making your first payment towards paying down your debt. However, like most things that bear long-term rewards, I also assure you that you will sense a feeling of tremendous accomplishment a lot sooner than you think; and certainly a lot sooner than if you put this off another few days, weeks, months, or years.

Sincerely, Expecting You to Do It Now!

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Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.

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