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Finding religion at Bear Stearns

Here’s an e-mail going around, supposedly from the vice president of Bear Stearns and gabbai of the company’s mincha minyan. Still trying to get my head around whether the e-mail is moving or maddening:

Friday, May 30

To the Bear Stearns Minyan, one last time:

After two great years at the Bear, and having been observant for about the same amount of time, I have chosen to exit galus and the world of gashmius (at least temporarily) in order to immerse myself in the ruchnius that I hope to find at Ohr Somayach in eretz Yisroel. I had been planning to go learn at some point, and despite having had a potential opportunity to go over to JPMorgan, the events that took place in mid-March made my decision that much clearer. Not only has Hashem provided me with the ability to go learn but he has blessed me with a “scholarship” care of JPM.

The Bear mincha minyan was really my first regular minyan and it provided me with much inspiration. The whole concept was foreign to me. The idea that a few dozen men at a major financial institution would take time out of their busy schedules and express their gratitude to Hashem, in a conference room within the building no less, was a big motivator for me. Moreover, nobody was talking, rarely were there any cell phone interruptions, and some were even able to achieve serious kavanagh. Thank you to everyone who davened for inspiring me with your tefillah.

While I sympathize with those who lost money and jobs, we know that everything happens for a reason and it will all work out for the best. That being said, the collapse of BSC provided a great deal of mussar to all who wish to see it. There are some employees who gave their heart and soul to the company for many years, and some lost thousands or even millions of dollars (Jimmy literally lost a billion!) – they learned the hard way that money is fleeting. Still there are others who were with the company for only a few months who will receive a nice severance package and have already accepted offers elsewhere at higher salaries. There are those, who because of the extraordinary amount of time that they spent at the office, missed out on many milestones (birthdays, weddings, etc.), and lost it all. And there are those who were just in the right place at the right time. And of course there are stories of everything in between. There are no accidents. Hashem is in charge of the world. Sometimes when we are in certain situations it is difficult to have a clear perspective. In the business world it is so easy to get caught up in the day to day and to lose sight of what really matters This experience has truly served to clarify for me the idea that the only “things” that are timeless are the mitzvahs that we do and the tzedakah that we give in olam hazeh. Bear Stearns will soon be a distant memory but hopefully this lesson will remain with us.

There is a famous story of an extraordinarily wealthy man who wrote two wills. When he passed away his children were instructed to immediately open will #1 and then 30 days later to open will #2. Will #1 indicated that the man’s last wish was to be buried in his favorite pair of socks. The chevra kadisha informed the children that this would not be possible. The children pleaded, informing them that their father was a very powerful man who had given a substantial amount of tzedakah throughout his life. They asked, “Do you know who our father is?” Still, the chevra kadisha told the children that it was not halachically permissible. They informed the children that the dead could only be buried in a white kittel. The children sadly buried their father unable to fulfill his final request. After 30 days had passed will #2 was read to the children. “By now children, you have buried me without my socks. I want you to realize that no matter how many millions of dollars you accumulate in your lifetime, you cannot even take your socks with you to the next world.”

There was once a man traveling through Europe in the 1800’s. He came to the town where the Chofetz Chaim had lived. The traveler stopped in to meet the great Talmid Chuchum. When he arrived at the house, he saw that the Chofetz Chaim lived in a tiny home. He knocked on the door and when he looked inside he saw a nearly empty one-bedroom apartment. The traveler asked the Chofetz Chaim, “aren’t you the great Chofetz Chaim? How can you live like this? Where are all of your possessions?” The Chofetz Chaim turned to the traveler and posed the same question. “Where are all of your possessions? All you have with you is a suitcase.” The traveler answered, “Well, I am just passing through,” to which the Chofetz Chaim responded, “I too am just passing through.”

These are old stories but their messages are powerful. It is of course important to make a living and support a family but it is also important to learn Torah b’yom u b’layla, to treat others with respect, to be a Kiddush Hashem and to always act l’shaem shemayim. As I have been inspired by everyone at the minyan, and certainly affected by the events that have transpired at Bear, I hope that you are all inspired by the messages that Hashem sends us on a daily basis and that you continue to strive to achieve a true closeness to the Rabbeinu shel Olam.

Nachum and I had a brief conversation with our CEO, Alan Schwartz, in the elevator on the way to Mincha yesterday. We invited him to daven with us though we conveyed our feelings that maybe our prayers for the well-being of Bear Stearns had not been received in the way that a lot of people had hoped. He had a meeting to attend but he left us with some great mussar. He said something along the lines of ‘don’t worry fellas – your prayers are being answered – we just don’t know how.’ Now I don’t know if he has been meeting with a Rabbi over the past few months or if it was just the power of the pintele Yid but I thought it was a great attitude reflecting on what has no doubt been the most tragic part of his career. Hashem sends us messages all the time and from the most unexpected places.

A big hakores hatov to Andy on behalf of the entire minyan for all his hard work and for being our shaliach mitzvah. By the way, if you have noticed that Andy hasn’t been around as much lately it is because he has been spending his mornings learning in Yeshiva. Yafeh!

If you find yourself in ir HaKodesh and are in need of someone to send out minyan e-mails (this time for a fee of course), or if you just want to take a yeshiva bucher for a decent meal, please contact me … Hatzlacha vBracha!

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