Moshiach and a Sunrise Picture of Economics

Publisher's Foreword

Major changes have taken place in the economic fabric of our society without attracting public attention. One of my friends told me that when he checked into a hotel in Moscow, he paid with an American credit card. They ran it through a credit check by a direct line to an office in Belgium which shared a computer link to the bank in the States. After he was finished, a Japanese businessman representing a combined venture with an American company checked in. His credit check went in the other direction, to Japan and across the Pacific. In less than five minutes, without even the slightest fanfare or departure from the routine, two financial transactions were completed that almost spanned the globe.

Or let's take a look at the Ford Escort, a car being produced in the U.S., Britain, and Germany. Its component parts are made in Spain, Italy, Japan, and Brazil. And in Italy, a new resort complex is being built by South Korean workers with American management personal.

No where in the world does a single nation economy continue to exist. Although the political structure of society lags behind, from the point of economics, the term "global village" has become a cliche, and "one world" is an operational construct which no one can afford to ignore.

Is there a deeper message behind this sequence of change? Can we see a pattern in the transition our economic reality is undergoing?

When speaking of the Redemption, Maimonides does not mention an apocalypse, but a gradual sequence of growth and change. Can we not see the construction of the backdrop for the environment of affluence, unity, and peace that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.

The thinking which motivated the essay which follows does not harbor any naive conceptions of the world's economy as being in an ideal state. Nor is it afraid to look in the mirror and see mankind's collective face. On the other hand, it advances a simple thesis: A setting has been created for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of abundance, world unity, and peace. The technology and the framework of reference leading to the creation of such a society is already within our conceptual grasp and, indeed, is at work in a far more encompassing manner than we realize.

Thus, we are all "living with the Redemption," for consciously or unconsciously, our lives are dependent on economic systems which less than thirty years ago would have been considered merely prophetic dreams. When we consciously recognize and seek to precipitate this trend, it will blossom into fulfillment far more rapidly.

9 Kislev, 5753

Moshiach and a Sunrise Picture of Economics

Let's share a story from the shtetl:

About a week after the wedding, Yaakov Chayim began to speak with his new son-in-law about where to invest his dowry. The father-in-law offered the son-in-law some advice, but the son- in-law was adamant. "I'm investing the money with Moshe David. He's promised me a high return; he's trustworthy. This is an opportunity I can't afford to miss."

Some months passed. Suddenly, the Wall Street of the shtetl received a shock. Moshe David had gone bankrupt. The satisfaction of being able to tell him "I told you so" was not enough to overcome Yaakov Chayim's genuine concern. What would his daughter and son-in-law do now that their fortune was gone.

Unable to control himself, he rushed to his son-in-law's home. "I'm glad you came," the son-in-law greeted him. "Now, I'd like to hear your investment advice."

"Investment advice," Yaakov Chayim said with his mouth agape. "What do you have to invest now."

"My dowry," his son-in-law answered with a smile. "To get my money back from Moshe David before the investment was due, I had to sacrifice the interest, but the principal is still intact. Now, I have to reinvest it."

"How did you get your money back from Moshe David," asked Yaakov Chayim incredulously. "He's bankrupt."

"Two weeks ago, I sensed something was going wrong, and I began to press him for my money back. Five days ago, he gave me everything."

"How did you know? How were you able to assess his financial status?"

"Believe me, I know nothing about finance. But I was standing next to him in shul and I saw him praying for Moshiach with great fervor. That was, enough for me."

Every one of us share Moshe David's feelings to a certain extent. When many of us think of Moshiach, in the back, and perhaps in the forefront, of our minds is that at last our bank accounts will be balanced. Even those whose accounts are not overdrawn associate the Era of the Redemption with having a little bit extra to purchase those things that we want, but can't afford at present.

This is human nature. Any change in society - particularly, a change of as great a nature as the Redemption - has to offer its people a better way of life. And better, must be defined not only in intangibles, ideals, values, and the like, but in tangibles, money, and/or the things you can purchase with money.

To cite an example from current events: The fate of the fledging democracies of Eastern Europe and the once Soviet Union is dependent in no small part on their ability to provide their people with better food, more comfortable and warmer homes, and clothing, cars, and appliances like their neighbors in the West. The personal freedom and opportunities for expression are appreciated. Nevertheless, in the long run, to sustain themselves, the new leaders of these countries must give their populace returns of substance, as well as of spirit.

And this is the way that it should be. Man was told "By the sweat of your brow will you eat your bread" [1] only after the sin. When he first came into this world, he was placed in the Garden of Eden, i.e., a place of pleasure where he enjoyed luxury and comfort. To be sure, this was also connected with responsibility; he was charged with "tilling and protecting" [2] the garden. But he was given the opportunity to exercise that responsibility in a stable, comfortable environment, not in one of challenge.

Every person feels "I deserve to have because I am. There should be no need for me to struggle to secure the basic necessities of life." And Judaism shares this view, even within the context of our post-Eden condition.

Our Sages [3] tell us a story about a Sage's son who hired workers and promised them meals in addition to their wages. After hearing this, his father told him, "Make a clear contract with them telling them what you will provide for them. Otherwise, even if you give them a feast fit for King Solomon, you will have not fulfilled your obligation to them."

As such, it is not surprising that the prophets speak of the Era of the Redemption as an ever-blossoming cornucopia, "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treder of grapes he who sows the seed. The mountains shall drip sweet wine." [4] The Era of the Redemption, G-d's ideal of the environment most aptly suited for man, is one where to quote Maimonides [5], "Good things will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be as freely available as dust."

As we live in a recession which is continually forcing us to buckle our belts a little tighter, these conceptions of abundant prosperity seem far-removed and perhaps, a little dream-like. On the other hand, the conception of an unmeasurable Divine bounty invested in creation is no longer a spiritual prophecy, but a contemporary economic fact.

Let's take a look the figures. At the turn of the century, one third of all Americans worked on farms. They were able to feed America's population and produce raw materials for industry, but there was little left for export. Today, our population has grown tremendously, and only three percent of the population work on farms. Nevertheless, this three percent produce enough not only to feed our entire population, but to export food throughout the world.

Similar concepts hold true for manufacturing; we have created an industrial framework that provides the average man with comforts and conveniences previously enjoyed by only the most wealthy and pampered, and perhaps, not even by them. What's more, unlike the early decades of the industrial revolution when much human sacrifice and difficulty was endured to make those machines run, our technology is making strict blue-color work obsolete, and requiring much more brain than brawn to produce industrial success.

At one time, man's challenge was to contend with nature. After the industrial revolution, the area of contention shifted to the pseudo-nature of the factory. The machines were new, and we had to learn how to make them work for us effectively. Now we have reached a point where in all areas: agriculture, industry, communications, and travel, our technology has enabled us to make breakthroughs unthought of in previous generations. More- over, the cumulative effects of these breakthroughs has made it clear that there will be newer and greater advances in the near future.

And these breakthroughs are not merely on the level of abstract theory. On the contrary, it is in tangibles that the change is most evident. Technology has revolutionized our society to the extent that, in Western society, even people who are poor in the contemporary understanding of the term, enjoy - and even take for granted- many benefits which in previous generations were luxuries and comforts available only to the privileged few.

Today the challenge facing us is not how to produce wealth, but how to distribute it justly. Can we create a society that promises its members peace and security, rather than violence and fear? Can we encourage the responsibility and education necessary to keep the technology which fuels our economy moving forward?

And this leads to another issue. Although economics are fundamentally important, economics alone are insufficient. Perhaps the most booming period of economic growth for the United States was the sixties, and that was the period most universally characterized by disillusion and alienation among our youth. Perhaps it's only the wealthy that can afford themselves the luxury of the following statement, but once wealth is achieved, almost everyone will come to the conclusion: Money isn't everything.

Let's go back to the passage of Maimonides cited above: Before telling us that in the Era of the Redemption, "Good things will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be as freely available as dust," Maimonides tells us: [6]

The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic era... to rule over... the nations, or to be exalted by them, nor in order to eat, drink, and enjoy happiness. Their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves in the study] of the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them so that they will merit the World to Come.

Prosperity can only serve as a means and can never become an end in itself. A million is a one, followed by six zeros. To treat this concept homiletically. Without the One, the zeros are zeros, of no value whatsoever. Wealth and affluence become gratifying when they are intended to provide man with a setting to live a life of wisdom and, more specifically, a life of wisdom governed by spiritual values [7].

Significantly, the ideals espoused by Maimonides are fast becoming not merely moral ideals, but principles that require practical application. The nature of our economy is minimizing the amount of human input required. To cite only one dimension: The use of robots and sophisticated computers is being restrained because of its influence on the labor market. Ultimately, these artificial restraints will be withdrawn. When this takes place, even conservative estimates speak of a reduction of one third of our work force. Some people speak of three fourths of all workers being without jobs.

And then what will people do with their time? A person who anticipates the Redemption, and for whom Moshiach is a reality understands that this time should be devoted to enable us to grow as people, and grow in awareness. In previous generations, cars, planes, and communication satellites reduced the limitations of actual space. At present, the intelligence revolution is granting us the opportunity to grow in conceptual space.

The extent of the abundance of blessings will also bring about a fundamental change in our approach to interpersonal relations. At present, people feel that the resources that promise wealth and security are scarce. Naturally, this causes them to "look out for number one," and to anxiously seek to get "their share of the pie." Needless to say, this breeds jealously and lack of trust. On a sophisticated level, it leads to corporate fraud and speculative promises of quick money that can never be realized. And on a more basic level, it causes the violence and crime that plague our cities.

But what if the pie is big enough for all of us to get ample shares? And it is. And this will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption.

Maimonides alludes to such a change in attitude in his words, "all the delights will be as freely available as dust." Man will be conscious of the abundance of Divine blessings and will no longer crave them. Since they will be freely available, he will partake of them whenever he desires, but without all the grappling for wealth and power experienced at present. As Maimonides says [8], "In that Era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy or competition." And this will allow man to focus his energies in a different direction. As Maimonides continues, " [Mankind] will know hidden matters and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of the human potential." Instead of having to center our attention on material things, our challenge will be to develop our human potential and reach out to the Divine.


  1. Genesis 3:19.
  2. Genesis 2:15.
  3. Bava Metzia 83a.
  4. Amos 9:13.
  5. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
  6. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:4.
  7. This concept will be explained in a forthcoming essay.
  8. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.