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Have You Reached Your Debt Ceiling?

The news this past week has been saturated with stories surrounding the United States’ debt limit. Headlines countrywide were screaming how the federal government had reached the end of its credit line; it had reached its legal limit for the amount of money it can borrow. Similar to maxing out your credit card, only with a $14 trillion limit. War has raged in Washington as our politicians worked frantically to resolve the crisis. Whoever would have thought that the mighty United States of America could be on the verge of having its credit rating downgraded due to its inability to pay off its loans?  In the end a deal was reached to avoid this impending disaster.

One of the most famous teachings of the holy Ba’al Shem Tov is that every person must learn something from every experience of his. The question is what can we take from something like the debt ceiling fiasco?

 "And G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to keep it." (Genesis 2:15) G-d entrusted His beloved world into our care, charging us with the responsibility of safeguarding it and developing its resources. Each time we make use of the world, each time we derive any physical pleasure or enjoyment from it, thus benefiting from it, we are in fact borrowing from G-d. Indulging in sushi or devouring a steak constitutes a withdrawal. Every vacation we relax in, every dollar we earn, is deducted from our balance.

Borrowing doesn’t necessarily pose a problem as long as we are committed to repaying our loans. The problem arises when we spend our entire lives borrowing and borrowing, caring only for ourselves and nobody else. One cannot live like a leech, taking without any thought for giving back. There must come a point in our lives where we stop and realize we’ve hit our personal debt ceiling. Every living creature has a borrowing limit and is accountable to G-d. Even the United States.

We currently find ourselves in the darkest days of the Jewish calendar. The nine days leading up to Tisha Be’Av, the date of the destruction of both Temples, have traditionally been marked as Judaism’s saddest period. Throughout our history, these nine days have been a time for introspection and self-reflection.  Rabbi Levi Yitzchok from Berditchev used to say that the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av is called the Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision. On this Shabbat, G-d grants every one of us a vision of the Third temple-- each on our own level, be it physical, psychological, or purely emotional. This vision is a subconscious reminder of what our purpose in life is, namely lowering our debt ceiling, and starting to repay our loans. It is a prompting to stop withdrawing so much from the universe and start giving back to society.

As we stand on the brink of Shabbat Chazon, let us each take a minute to reflect on what we could give back. Take two minutes every day and do a favour for another person. Join a Torah class. Put on tefillin. Life isn’t just about me and my own satisfaction. It's about taking a step back and letting G-d in, because that’s how we start paying Him back. If you expect to withdraw from His bank, you must equally expect to deposit. Somewhere along the way even the greatest among us must do some physical as well as spiritual accounting. It's payback time!

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