For many readers, the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of stress in America, issued this week, only confirms something they already know all too well: Stress is plentiful in the United States, especially stress over money.
The report states that, although the United States is the world’s richest country, our economic inequality is among the highest in the world. The Great Recession may have officially ended, but most American households face stagnant wages and increasing debt — many Americans are actually considered to be poorer than they were a decade ago.
Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and more than one quarter of adults (26 percent) report feeling stressed about money most or all of the time.
Overall, stress is having a very real effect on day-to-day lives, with symptoms of stress including feeling angry, anxious, fatigued, overwhelmed, depressed, and disinterested. More than 40 percent of Americans say that they lie awake at night because of stress, and a third report eating too much or consuming unhealthy foods because of stress.
Torah Jews, who shoulder considerably more expenses — including tuition, kosher food and marrying off children — than most others, are well aware of the crushing effects of financial stress, an affliction that affects our health, our relationships and, most devastatingly, our avodas Hashem.
While the challenge this poses can’t be overstated, we are fortunate to have a powerful antidote to all types of stress: bitachon.
The Dubno Maggid told a famed parable of the time a bedraggled beggar was trudging down the road, with a heavy knapsack on his back. A wealthy man drove by in a splendid coach and offered him a lift.
The poor man gratefully accepted, and sat down in the comfortable seat, carefully placing the knapsack on his lap. When his benefactor pointed out that there was plenty of room on the adjoining seat for his baggage, the beggar refused.
“It is nice enough of you to offer me a ride; I wouldn’t want you to have to carry my baggage as well!”
The benefactor became exasperated at his foolishness, and explained to his guest that his carriage was in any case carrying both man and burden, whether it was in his lap or on the seat.
All that we own and all that we need comes from Hashem, the Source of all solutions, the Answer to our dilemmas. Since, in any case, our beloved, caring Father “carries” our burden, why should we insist on carrying it as well?
Obviously, this is far easier said than done. Achieving elevated levels of bitachon is the work of a lifetime. We must constantly seek ways to boost our own bitachon while ensuring that we are fulfilling our requisite responsibility of hishtadlus. But when it comes to the needs of others, we must never suffice with words of chizuk, but must take concrete actions to alleviate their plight.
The greatest form of tzedakah is to help another Jew earn a respectable parnassah so that he need not be dependent on others.
Numerous businesses within our community have gone the extra mile and hired community members with a family to support, even if this means paying higher wages and allowing more flexibility regarding working hours. If more establishments would follow their heroic lead, it would make a real difference in cutting the unemployment rates in our community.
When residents patronize local shops instead of purchasing from an online behemoth, they not only get to see firsthand what they are buying, but they perform a mitzvah through helping give parnassah to the proprietor and allowing him to hire more employees.
Another way to be of assistance is by helping to break the stigma attached to certain types of professions. In some communities, relatively well-paying occupations that, only a few decades ago, were considered demeaning and therefore off-limits are now rightfully considered perfectly appropriate, even sought after. It took the actions of a brave few who were the first to take the plunge and, in short order, the public’s perception of these positions shifted dramatically.
In secular society, a person is generally judged by his position and power. In the business world, titles are often more important than actual productivity.
Torah Jewry has a very different view, and for us it is not a person’s title that grants him his stature, but his righteousness. When a respected young man puts away his pride and agrees to take a job that he knows will cause some raised eyebrows, he is actually a hero, for he is paving the way for others to follow suit and helping them earn a parnassah as well. When his friends and family members offer him encouraging words and genuine praise, recognizing that he deserves their admiration and full-fledged support, they too merit to make a real difference.