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I Can't Pay My Rent

Friday, 24 April, 2020 - 1:53 pm

On the 20th of the month, my landlord emailed me a link: “You can pay your rent right here on this website.”

Since we moved to our current apartment around seven years ago, I have paid the rent diligently. I may have been late by a couple of days once in a while, but I certainly never missed a payment. This April, however, deep into the month I still had not paid my rent, and so he reached out to me.

Now this landlord owns thousands of apartments all over the city; I don’t know exactly how many buildings he owns, but I know it’s a lot. I figured this was a mass email sent out to all the tenants who still hadn't paid, so I didn’t respond.

The next day he sent a follow up: “GM, I had sent you an email about paying rent online. Have not heard from you yet. Pls call this AM in this regard, stay safe.”

Clearly, this was not a mass email. Oops! This was personal; he knows that I have not paid and has personally reached out to me himself, not through any of his numerous employees. So I responded. 

“Hope all is well with you,” I wrote. “Unfortunately I am not in a position to pay rent this month. Our entire operation has been shut down. Our shul, preschool, Torah classes and many other programs have all moved to Zoom, and donations to our Chabad center are down by 90 percent. Is there any way you can help us in this unfortunate time?”

Like millions of people across the world who are having this conversation with their landlord, I am not unique. Someone emailed me a few days ago, “Rabbi, this is the darkest period of my life. It has never been worse; my income is down to zero and I have lost all my money.”

My landlord replied immediately: “That is a big chunk of change to ask for. I have a bank breathing down my back.”

And then I realized that my landlord does not own the building I live in—the banks do! He owes them money, and he may in fact be in an even worse position than I am. “The more possessions we have, the more worries we accumulate,” the Mishnah tells us.

So who is responsible for the damages that have been caused by the coronavirus? Is it my fault that my operation has ceased to exist? Is it the landlord’s burden to bear? Is it the banks? Who is ultimately responsible?

But then I asked myself, how have I been able to pay rent the last few years? Of course, it’s all G-d! Yes, I work hard. Most mornings I am up at 4am, and my work is essentially helping other people, but I still have to pay my bills each month. And the one who has helped me until now is G-d. In fact, the Torah promises us, “G-d shall bless you in all that you do.” 

How is the doctor who has patients streaming through his practice able to pay his bills? We might assume it’s his skill and experience, but of course that’s not it. It’s G-d. 

How is the lawyer, who is inundated with high-paying clients, able to pay her bills? We may chalk it up to her superior intelligence and excellent education, but that’s not it either. Of course not. It’s G-d. 

And how about the finance guru who is raking it in through stocks? Is it because of his clever investment strategy? Of course not. His success, too, is all thanks to G-d. 

The same G-d that enabled the doctor, lawyer, finance guru, and me to pay our bills the last few years will continue to do so now. But we must create a vessel, a portal if you will, for that to happen. We can’t sit back and expect the money to flow from heaven. We must work and create natural channels for the blessings to come our way. 

Lest we think we are smart and tough and resilient and responsible for our own successes and earnings… this would be a huge mistake! The one who has been paying our bills is G-d.

And so now, during this difficult period in our lives, who will help? Of course, G-d will! We still have to put in the effort, and perhaps even redouble our efforts, but at the same time we must increase our faith in G-d and know that He will not abandon us.

As for me and my landlord, for now we’ve worked out a mutually satisfactory deal for the next three months, after which hopefully all will be well again. 

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