ONE of the terms in currency today is “the paradox of thrift.” This means that when the economy’s in a severe recession, the more an individual saves, the worse it is for the economy as a whole, and thus, ultimately, for the individual saving as well. At first glance, that doesn’t make sense - hence the paradox – but it works like this.
We get a paycheck and do three things with it - pay for necessities, save, and spend on non-necessities (goods and services). Money spent on goods and services creates jobs, and the people who have those jobs spend money just like we do. But when lots of people lose their jobs, lots of people aren’t spending. And when lots of people aren’t spending, banks and investors aren’t lending, because nobody’s buying. And we get into a vicious cycle.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we encounter is a lesson in our Divine Service. So even the “paradox of thrift” has a lesson for us. There are two things we can spend: time and money. And we have to spend both to avoid getting into a spiritual paradox of thrift. When times get tough, self-preservation, pulling back, is instinctive. And yet, that’s precisely when we must not only continue to give charity but actually increase our giving.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, points out that “saving one’s self first” doesn’t mean that our luxuries come before another’s necessities. In Jewish law, even a poor person who survives on charity has to give to charity. Because there’s always someone who needs help more than you. In short, since the way to get out of an economic recession is to spend money on goods and services, the way to get out of a spiritual recession is to give tzedeka – spend money on the needs of others.
There’s another lesson – how we spend our time. If we save our time for ourselves, that makes “spiritual time” less accessible to others, who will hoard theirs, and so on. What do we mean by “spiritual time”? Time spent praying, time spent doing a good deed or helping others.
So, to avoid the paradox of thrift - spend! Spend your money on charity, spend your time reading the Bible or helping someone in need.
Rabbi Yehuda Pink MSc
Solihull & District Hebrew