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Jewish Fiat Currency - March 3 2017

Jewish Fiat Currency - March 3 2017

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I hope all is well with you and the family. Here at Chabad we had a great week, and we're looking forward to our Family Shabbat program tonight, Shabbat Services tomorrow, our Hamantash bake at Chabad on Sunday, the Saturday Night Live Purim celebration and our 'Purim in Israel' party - I'd love for you to join!

In 1971 President Richard Nixon initiated a series of economic changes that became known as the 'Nixon Shock'. The most significant of these changes was the end of the Gold Standard and the conversion of the dollar from being pegged to gold into a fiat currency.

What this meant was that the dollar's value was no longer that it could be converted into a dollar's worth of gold. From that point on, the dollar's value would be simply by 'fiat' - the government decreed that this currency is the legal tender of the country.

This move made the dollar far more 'elastic' and dependent upon the mood of the population, because the very value of a dollar itself was simply the trust in the US economy. That trust is what people were exchanging when exchanging dollars. If that trust was even slightly compromised, the value of the dollar would fall. 

While the validity of the decision to end the Gold Standard is still debated today, I do find it very interesting that an entire currency can be based on the trust and feelings of people.

This week we began the Jewish month of Adar, the fourteenth day of this month is the holiday of Purim. The holiday of Purim has several Mitzvot connected with it. One of those Mitzvot is to hear the 'Megillah' (the scroll of the Purim story) read. 

The 'Shulchan Aruch', or code of Jewish Law, has an interesting rule pertaining to how to correctly read the Megillah: 'If anyone reads the Megillah backwards', writes the Code of Law, 'Then he has not fulfilled his obligation [of reading the Megillah]'.

Now, why would anyone read the Megillah backwards?

The Ba'al Shem Tov (1700-1760, founder of the Chassidic movement) explains this in a beautiful way. The Megillah can very easily be mistakenly read 'backwards', not verbally but historically. The ancient story of Purim, how the Jews were saved from a decree that would have wiped out our entire people in one day, can be seen as ancient history with little importance today. It can be read as a distant memory - it can be understood as 'backwards'.

This is what the Code of Jewish law was trying to prevent. The Purim story is brimming with lessons, teachings and practical ideas that can be easily applied in today's day and age. Thus we should not read it 'backwards' but see it as a useful tool in finding meaning in life.

I'd like to focus on just one lesson we can glean from the Megillah and Purim story.

The Jews at the time were very well established in the Persian empire. They were successful, their leader Mordechai was a high ranking government officer, and a Jewish woman, Esther, was queen.

Yet when faced with a life threatening crisis, what did the Jews do first? They prayed, they enhanced their connection with Judaism and ensured a Jewish education for their children. Only afterwards did they put their political capital do use, sending Esther to plead with the King etc.

The Jews of ancient Persia knew that their ultimate currency was their bond with God and his Torah, and that is where they first turned in times of need. This wasn't meant to replace political activism - of course political activism is very important. But for thousands of years the Jewish people knew that their true currency and security was a 'fiat currency', a currency based on trust in God. Everything else comes next.

Long before Nixon moved us off the Gold Standard, the Jewish people did the same. Notwithstanding the importance of success, wealth and political activism, the eternal connection we had with our creator was the basis for everything else we did.

Rabbi Avrohom

 

 

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