Category Archives: holidays

The Anti-Accumulation Holiday [Guest Sermon]

not my synagogue Each week, my Rabbi gives a moving and informative sermon. They’re always top-notch, but this week’s was also very topical for Foundry in the Forest. I asked him if he’d be willing to let me turn it into a guest post, and he was kind enough to oblige.

The holiday of Passover is coming up next week, so Jews around the world are doing spring cleaning: literally, to get rid of the bread crumbs in the cupboards, and also metaphorically to try to rid ourselves of the excess in our lives.

The sermon is long but I encourage you to read the whole thing, regardless of your faith, as the message is universal.

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The Anti-Accumulation Holiday
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum

I have made it known over the years that the most valuable lessons I have learned in life come from television. But, today, I’m not going to limit my comments to TV. I’m going to start with a television show. But, then, I’m also going to talk about an insight into the Exodus story I learned from a Muslim friend, and how it’s connected to the show.

First the show. There is a show on HBO called “Enlightened” starring Laura Dern as Amy. In one of the episodes, there is a five minute encounter between Amy’s mother, Helen, and Helen’s old friend Carol, played by Barbara Billingsley.

Helen and Carol used to be good friends. They were both married to successful husbands, and they ran in the same circles. They run into each other in the store, after not having seen each other for several years. At first, they are delighted to see each other, and they start to catch up on each other’s lives.

Carol tells Helen about her daughter who is married and has two beautiful little children. She pulls out her iPhone to show Helen the photos. Then Carol asks Helen about her children. Well, Helen has one daughter, who has a child, but she hasn’t spoken to this daughter in years.

Her other daughter, Amy has just gotten divorced from Levi. They used to be the envy of everyone in high school—the energetic, beautiful blonde that all the boys wanted to date, and the handsome, star athlete. But, things haven’t worked out for them. And, now Amy has been demoted from her job and is living with her mother, trying to figure things out.

When Helen tells Carol about her children, Carol makes a feeble attempt at sympathy, but change of facial expression and tone of voice reflect a sense of superiority laced with contempt. “You know,” she says to Helen, “my daughter was always jealous of Amy in high school. Everyone wanted to be Amy. She had it all.” And, it was clear that Carol believed she had won the race. She had children, she had grandchildren who were flourishing. And, the former prom queen had nothing. And, she was happy about it.

The whole conversation lasted no more than five minutes, but it was brilliantly done. Because it showed how a simple exchange between two women who were supposedly friends and interested in each other’s welfare, was really about an intense jockeying for power and position. No one pulled out a gun, no voice was raised even a notch. But, this was war. It wasn’t enough for Carol that she had so much to be grateful for in her life. She had to derive additional satisfaction from the fact that her friend Helen had less than she did, and so she had won.

What causes human beings to behave this way? Here I would like to turn to a story we spoke about a few weeks ago, but which I saw differently because of a discussion we had in our Muslim-Jewish dialogue group this week. We were studying the story of the manna. After our people left Egyptian slavery, and we were traveling in the desert, we were anxious about not having enough food. So, God gave us a guaranteed food supply for forty years. But, God only gave us one day’s supply of manna at a time.

And, there were rules. We were not allowed to save any manna for the next day. We were to take only as much as we needed and no more. And, the Torah tells us that no matter how much we gathered, every one of us had just enough, but no surplus. So, clearly, many of us tried to grab as much as we could, but to no avail.

Many of us tried to save the manna for the next day, but it spoiled. We were only allowed to save the manna once. That was on Friday, when God gave us a double portion, so we wouldn’t have to gather on Shabbat. But, that didn’t prevent the Jewish people from going out the next day and looking for more.

Why did God choose this particular method of feeding the Jewish people at the moment we had been released from slavery? What would have been wrong with allowing us to save up some of the manna, and relieve us of the anxiety that we wouldn’t have enough for tomorrow?

When we were studying this story in our Muslim-Jewish dialogue group, one of the Muslims, David Suissa, remembered that in the Joseph story, there was an opposite scenario. Joseph was the ultimate saver of food. He presided over the saving of food in Egypt during the years of plenty so that when the famine hit, there would be enough to feed everyone.

That sounds so sensible. But, what actually happened? Joseph controlled the entire food supply for Egypt. He rationed out food as he saw fit. Initially, people bought the food. When they ran out of money, they sold their land to the government in exchange for food. When they ran out of land, they sold themselves to Pharoah in exchange for food. Now Pharoah controlled all the land in Egypt and he had a huge slave force.

When we look at life as a zero-sum battle for scarce resources, the result will be slavery. In our fear that we will not have enough, we will want to grab as much as we can. We will horde, we will try to corner the market. And, the result of that kind of unbridled competition is always going to be that a small number of people are going to control a disproportionate share of the resources, and a huge population is going to have little or nothing. The resource could be land, money, oil, water, and even things like friendship, or sexual partners.

The Torah traces human oppression to the propensity of every human being to take more than we need. It’s why the Torah says of the king, ‘The king was not to accumulate too much gold, too many horses, and too many women.’ Because if the criterion of a successful life is having more and more and more—if the more we have, the better we are, that’s a recipe for gross inequality and mass human misery.

When the Jewish people left Egypt, the goal was to create an egalitarian society, How do you do it? You attack the source of inequality—our human tendency to want more than we need. If God had allowed the Jewish people to collect as much manna as they could, there would have been a fierce competition, with the Jewish people stepping on each other to grab as much as possible.

The result would be that a small number of people would control the majority of the food supply. They could sell it at any price they wanted. And, now, once again, you have a slave society. By forbidding the Jewish people from even saving for one day, God was reversing what went wrong in the Joseph story, where hording led to slavery.

And, the way we celebrate Passover is a reflection of this philosophy. In the month before Pesach, it’s a liability to save. You’ll end up throwing things out.

Passover is the anti-accumulation holiday. To get ready for the holiday of freedom, we have to un-save, we have to un-accumulate. We have to get rid of all the extra stuff that we don’t need. It’s a way to rid us of the insecurity that leads us to horde and take as much as we can. Because it’s this compulsion to take more than we need that leads us to be blind to what others need.

It’s no accident that the most popular song at the Seder is Dayenu, which means “We have enough.” To create a truly just society, it is essential that each of us master the ability to take what we need, and no more. Passover challenges us to ask ourselves: what do we really need to be happy and fulfilled?

And, not just in regard to material resources. There are many ways to play the hunger games. We can hunger for attention. We can hunger for applause. We can look at life as a bank account in which we have to continually pile up credits to our name. In our mussar class in the Fall, Ann Trail called them merit badges. The more badges we have, the more worthwhile we are. When that hunger to accumulate becomes obsessive, even in the most polite society, we can end up taking joy in our neighbor’s unhappiness.

Passover encourages us to live more simply, to live more modestly, not only in our physical needs, but in our emotional needs, too: to take for ourselves enough attention, enough praise, enough appreciation, but not more.

Passover encourages us to sing Dayenu, not only at the Seder, but in our lives, as well.

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Who knew that the main theme of Your Money Or Your Life (having enough) has its roots in an old Jewish Passover song?

Thank you to Rabbi Rosenbaum for allowing me to publish his sermon. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Spring, no matter what you celebrate!

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Last-Minute Frugal Date Night Ideas

Items from a frugal date night As if she was reading my mind, Foundry follower Sally Ashley asked if she could do a guest post on Frugal Date Nights. Just in time for Valentine’s Day! When she’s not reading this blog, Sally writes about romance and personal finance. Her most recent work focuses on how to pick the best finance schools.

So if you don’t have anything planned for your sweetie tonight, and you want to keep it frugal, read on…

How to Plan a Frugal Date Night
Planning a date doesn’t always have to be expensive, and you can have just as much fun on a frugal date as you can on an expensive date. Below are some great ways you can plan a frugal date night and still have a great time!

Hangout at Home
You can plan a fun but cheap date night in your very own home. You probably have food there, so look up some recipes online and cook a great meal for you and your date. More than likely, you have some good entertainment in your home as well. A stereo, television, computer, video game system or just some good old-fashioned board games can be fun on a date. Simply invite your date over to hangout and listen to music, watch a movie and share a meal, or play some fun games.

Attending Local Events
Most every city has local newspapers that list local events and happenings that will be going on in the next few weeks. Some cities have their own websites that list these events. Look in those papers or Internet sites, and search for some local events that you and your date can attend. When you see something that looks fun, and go out and have some fun. Most of the time, these events are relatively cheap or even free.

Visit the Park
A romantic AND cheap date that can be a lot of fun is going to the park. If you or your date has a dog, take your pet along. You can pack a nice picnic lunch and a blanket and sit under the trees and enjoy good conversation while eating lunch. Some parks host events and activities as well. They might have a swimming pool, walking/jogging trails or some secluded areas to get some privacy. If it’s winter, there might be somewhere to go ice skating.

Cheap Movie 
Going out to the movies on a date is ridiculously expensive, and more often than not, boring. Staring at a screen and being silent for over two hours can make it tough to get back into the vibe after the movie is over. However, if there is a movie you both want to see and it is available by rental, check it out and watch it at home. You can pop your own popcorn, have your own drinks and sit down and share a movie together. Every now and again, you can stop the movie to enjoy some conversation or refresh your beverages. If you know your date pretty well, take advantage of the cheaper movie specials during the daytime, or visit the dollar movie to catch a really cheap one. [ed: Even cheaper, borrow a movie from the library for free!]

Cheap Coffee Dates

Meeting up for coffee can be a good idea if you know your date pretty well. If so, you can engage in good conversation the entire time you are there. If you do not know your date well, a coffee shop can be intimidating – trying to find something to say for a couple of hours. If you have a nice coffee maker or cappuccino machine at home, ask your date over for some homebrew, and make your own coffee at home while enjoying conversation, a meal or just watching television together. First dates at a coffee shop are easier if you go on a double-date to help break the ice. Afterwards, you can go to a cozier place alone if things go as planned.

Hopefully, you can use some of these frugal date ideas for yourself. They are easy on the wallet, and they will allow you the opportunity to get to know your date better. You can learn a lot about a person by using one of these cheap date ideas over the more expensive options.
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Thanks, Sally! Readers, how are you spending your Valentine’s Day (frugally or otherwise)? In our family, we exchange hand-made cards for each other, and Mrs Foundry usually bakes a treat for the family. This year I splurged and got her a bouquet of her favorite flowers (even though we agreed on no gifts). Oops!

Food Stamp Challenge: Thankful Wrap-up

The Food Stamp Challenge ended Sunday afternoon. We broke the bank by just $2, as you can see by the image to the right, which is close enough to the goal that I consider it a success. If you’re interested, you can also look at the full spreadsheet with lists of what we bought and (much of) what we ate.

The week went by pretty much like a normal week. Venessa might tell you otherwise, since the work of planning and purchasing just the right amount of food fell mostly on her shoulders. I’m very thankful that she’s so willing to go along with my crazy challenges! The biggest change was not going out to lunch with my co-workers, which I usually do a couple times a week.

From looking at the shopping list, the secret to keeping food costs down is obvious: buy individual ingredients, instead of ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods. With the exception of “hamburger buns,” almost everything else on the list is either a food item in its most basic form, or a food home-made prior to the start of the challenge*. Given enough time (and my awesome bread machine) I could have made the buns too. Time is really what is needed to turn ingredients into food. I’m thankful that Venessa and I each work sane schedules so we have time for cooking nutritious meals, and being with the rest of the family.

I was talking about the challenge with a friend, mentioning how I aimed to show that living on a very limited food budget doesn’t mean that one needs to make compromises. She mentioned that simply having the money and mentality to make healthy food choices isn’t sufficient for everyone, since some folks live in a food desert. I’m lucky to live walking-distance from an adequate supermarket and work walking-distance from two very good ones, so it didn’t occur to me that not everyone has that luxury. This is yet another thing to be thankful for.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m dropping a lot of thankful bombs, which can only mean one thing: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Eat yummy food but don’t overdo it. Remember those who are overworked, not able to get to grocery stores, and getting by on Food Stamps.

* If I really wanted to be tough on myself, I’d also add “wine” and the various dairy products to the list of ready-made food items, since they can both be made at home from basic ingredients.

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! Due to the magic of blogging, I’m relaxing with family and friends while this is posted.

Just as the founders of our country worked for independence from a system that didn’t allow them to live their lives the way they chose, I declare my independence from commercialism, wastefulness, and anything else that’s keeping us from living the lives we want to live.

Have a fun and safe holiday!

Your Money or Your Life, Step 5: Making Life Energy Visible

[This is part 5 of a 9 part series on the book Your Money or Your Life. See my original post about the book.]

For this step you have a choice: you get to decide if you’d rather do an art project (right brain folks) or a spreadsheet (left brain folks). Either way, you’ll use your handiwork to visualize your income and expenses from the Monthly Tabulation (Step 3).  The chart will show you the trend in your financial situation and will give you a sense of progress over time. The transformation of your relationship with money will be right before your eyes.

Right-Brain Folks (art project):

Get a large sheet of graph paper, at least 18 by 22 inches, and draw a graph on it. FITF reader Jeremy told me about a site where you can make and print your own graph paper. The horizontal axis represents time (months), and the vertical axis represents money. For the later, choose a scale that allows plenty of room above your highest monthly income (you’ll see why in Step 7). Use different-colored lines for expenses and income.

Left-Brain Folks (spreadsheet):

If you’re the kind of person who chose a spreadsheet over an art project, I trust you know what to do here. Just plot your monthly expenses and income, and have the program generate a graph for you. Here’s mine:

Christmas Colors. Who said I don't get into the spirit of the season?

Side note on constancy: See that first big spike in expenses? That month we sold our house at a loss and it cost us.  The second spiky month (July), we came into some money and immediately paid off debt. I could have skipped tracking those months, with the rationale that they weren’t “ordinary” months. But really, what month is “ordinary”? It’s more important to make a habit of following these steps every month, and not evaluate how your month went relative to some “ideal” month. Just do it!

This chart will become the picture of your progress toward Financial Independence, and you’ll use it for the rest of the program. In fact, in Steps 6 and 7, we’ll cover ways to make the expenses line go down and the income line go up, respectively. And in Step 8, we’ll add a 3rd line to the graph that will totally blow your mind! So if you plotted it on paper, put it somewhere you can see it. If you use a spreadsheet, save the file on your computer desktop where you’ll notice it. If you used Google Docs, just remember to look at it next time you’re in The Cloud.

PS: I’m curious to see if I have more right or left brain readers, so please take this quick poll:

Free TV Day

As much as I dislike TV, I love this advice:

Dec. 26th is “Free TV Day!” That is the day everybody puts their working tv in the Free section of Craigslist. Anybody who gets a new flatscreen for Xmas invariably hooks it up right away and wants to get rid of the old one ASAP. Start scanning the ads the night before and be ready to pick it up quick!

Frugality is a mindset. Buy low, sell high. Be greedy when others are fearful, be fearful when others are greedy.

What I’m thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Not sure what got into me, but I blurted this out at the beginning of the week:

“We’re going to start a new family tradition where you have to think of as many things you’re thankful for as you are years old”

The twins are proud of being “eight and a half” so I told them they actually had to think of an extra half thing. Here are their lists (printed without permission):

Isaac Aaron
  1. famaliy(esepacly arron and lilya)
  2. selter
  3. love
  4. water
  5. lifie
  6. air
  7. electtericctiy
  8. entertamement
  9. ocgen
  1. food
  2. air
  3. water
  4. shelter
  5. bed
  6. twin
  7. dad
  8. mom

Aaron isn’t getting dessert until he comes up with another half thing he’s thankful for!

I held up my end of the bargain and thought of 31 things:

  1. Venessa
  2. My health
  3. My family’s health
  4. A roof over our heads
  5. Having food on our table
  6. Being free to be Jewish
  7. Having meaningful work
  8. Being able to ride my bike
  9. Friends who stop by unexpectedly
  10. Supportive parents
  11. Shabbat
  12. Isaac, for his compassion
  13. Aaron, for his tenacity
  14. Lillia, for her love of discovering new things
  15. Local farms
  16. Freedom of speech
  17. Effie, for giving her life to save the rest of the flock
  18. Diz, for being my pet for 20+ years
  19. Scourge (our cat)
  20. Good music and books
  21. Candles, instead of lights, when the sun goes down
  22. Innovators, for new inventions to make our lives better
  23. The Science Center, for teaching us new things
  24. The changing seasons
  25. Biathlon, cyclocross and other friendly competition
  26. The state of Israel
  27. Technology that enables friends and family from afar to keep in touch
  28. Beer
  29. Self-improvement
  30. A good book
  31. Seattle

What are you thankful for?