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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Bereishit, Economy, Ekev

Ekev: Popular is not Always Right

Submitted by on August 14, 2011 – 2:08 amNo Comment | 3,056 views

The Market Syndrome

The markets are behaving poorly, stock prices are erratic and investors, whose portfolios have been thinned, want to bail. Is it time to panic? Should we call the stock broker immediately?

Many analysts believe that this is the perfect time to call the broker, but to buy rather than to sell. Warren Buffet is reputed to trade like a gentleman; he buys when others want to sell and sells when others want to buy. For Buffet, the intrinsic value of a company is always of greater interest than its success in the stock market. If he finds a company undervalued in the market and unpopular among investors, he buys it regardless of what the market does.

Few can match Buffet’s market prowess, but the buy low sell high rule is fundamental to success. It is most difficult to hold fast to it and ignore the market’s volatility when the risks are high. When stocks soar and everyone wants to buy we are loathe to sell. When the markets plunge and everyone wants to sell, investing more money, rather than salvaging what is left, requires nerves of steel.

Still, countering our instincts is the key to success. In times such as these, despite our fears and anxiety, we must be discerning and proactive. With faith in our long term investments we must remember the fundamentals. Just because everyone wants to sell doesn’t mean that selling is wise at this time. In fact, we can turn this crisis into our opportunity. If they insist on selling underpriced shares of intrinsic value, we might be wise to act like gentlemen. Do as they ask and buy.what is popular is not always right

In a word, don’t let the markets overwhelm you. They are powerful and volatile and I don’t mean to make light of the terrible pain and predicament, but if we act with discernment we can ride out this storm, survive and even thrive.

Popular Is Not Always Right

The gist of this lesson is that what is popular is not always right and if this is true of the markets it is even truer of religion. The Jewish percentage of the world’s population is miniscule. Among this tiny group, the number of observant Jews is an even smaller minority. If religion were a popularity contest it would have failed long ago. The trends don’t support our passion for Torah and faith in G-d.

Now suppose you resolved to observe Shabbat or to keep kosher or to pray every day. Suppose further that you were the only one in your family and social circle to do so. Suppose further that you were mocked for your religiosity. What should you do, follow the herd and do what is popular or buck the trends and do what is right for you?

A Road Through A Desert

Our ancestors were made to travel a lonely desert for forty years before entering the Holy Land. The ancient Middle East was not a religious environment. Jews, as practicing monotheists, were vastly outnumbered there. Surrounded by Idolatrous tribes and pagan cultures they were a miniscule minority.

To prepare for this G-d led through them a dessert. A desert is defined as a place devoid of human habitat. The human is a reflection of G-d, which is why the Hebrew word for human is Adam, a cognate of Adame. The phrase Adame L’elyon means I shall reflect the supernal. The first human was called Adam because the human is a reflection of G-d.

As humans we are able to sublimate our mundane, physical environment and channel Divinity into our world through living a principled and G-dly life. A desert is devoid of humanity and thus also devoid of any trace of Divine presence.

When traveling through a desert it is easy to be overcome by its sheer vastness and still emptiness. Compared to its magnitude and power one can feel small and overwhelmed.

The Torah describes the desert that our ancestors traveled as great and awesome. This description was meant to teach them that if the desert was great in their minds, it would not fail to awe them. If they would buy into the magnitude and power of the desert, or its spiritual corollary, the G-dless environment that awaited them at their destination, it would be difficult not to be overawed by it.

Another way of putting it, once they accepted that the G-dless environment was stronger than they were, it would be difficult not to surrender to it.

G-d led our ancestors through the desert to demonstrate that though it is awesome, it can be overcome. One need not panic when facing a huge desert, it can be survived. In physical terms this means that our nation survived forty years in the desert with ample supplies of food, water and protection. In spiritual terms the message was, despite the sheer numbers and great magnitude of the desert like environment they would encounter among the region’s pagan cultures and G-dless tribes, Judaism would flourish and even thrive.

The challenge is to reject the suggestion that the desert is greater than we are. We are not subject to its whims. We can stand for ourselves and buck its trends. Once we accept that we measure up against its raw power we can refuse to be cowed by it. If it is great in our minds, it will be awesome in real life. If it is not greater than us then we will not be awed by it.

This is sound advice for market investments and it is sound advice for our religious commitments. (1)


  1. This essay is based largely on Likutei Sichos v. 2 p.371.

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