Archive for the ‘Foreclosure’ Category

What Will Your Children Remember?

May 31, 2008

This week’s Torah portion brings us to focus on our own lives and how we impact others, especially our children. What will they remember about you when you are gone? What will bring a smile to their faces, warmth in their heart and guidance for the development of their soul, their morality and ethics in a complex world? 

Only you can answer these questions for yourself and only you can make decisions today, now, on where this is all heading and how you might want steer a different course.

These are challenging questions. Knowing right from wrong is perfectly easy on certain extreme things. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out that killing a defenseless human being is wrong or that giving a helping hand to someone in need is right. But I believe that the real test of character and depth of a person’s soul is the effort made in determining right from wrong before acting in a complex world with competing needs and pressures.

It is exhausting enough to just live in this world. Taking time to exercise your mind, body and soul can seem just too much. But for myself, if I break it down into tiny baby steps, I find I can pull my rear end off the chair and do 10-15 minutes on the treadmill, write a letter to my kids, or think about the future of my grandchildren. If I allow myself just a moment to consider what is happening in my neighborhood, my society and the world I might come up with an idea to help people. I might even come up with an idea that gets my “motor running” out of retirement and into life. 

When I am confronted with a moral challenge it usually involves some vague feeling of right and wrong on the one hand, and either expediency or urgency (“necessity”) on the other hand. In my youth I am sorry to report I tended toward expediency followed by rationalization. As I got a little older, nearing thirty years of age, I began to realize that I was defining myself by my lapses in judgment, integrity and good will. One little step at a time, as an imperfect man in an imperfect world, I set out to change my course and to tell the truth even when it hurt a little to admit my errors — especially to myself.

I learned that self-disclosure empowered me. Nobody could hold anything over me because I was free to disclose my own failings and flaws. After a while it occurred to me that my ability to trust other people was not nearly as important as their ability and willingness to trust me at my word. So I made good on promises even when it was very inconvenient to do so.

I can remember a couple of debts that I had guaranteed for a failed business and I had moved out of state and out of the practical reach of the creditors of the business. But I had personally assured these people who extended the credit on the strength of trusting me. So it took years, but I paid it off. I sure would like to have had that money for myself, but at the end of my life I believe I will look back on that as something to be proud of and that if I had kept the money I would have that gnawing feeling as I expired, that I hadn’t done as well as I could have. 

My children know I don’t lie to them. My wife knows I don’t lie to her. My friends and business associates know I don’t lie to them and that I go out of my way to anticipate any misunderstandings that could arise so we are all confident in each other’s intent. And I don’t just avoid lying. I go out of my way to tell the truth and I don’t withhold it unless I believe it would serve no constructive purpose and would actually hurt or harm people.

A funny thing happened along the way. I decided to help people going through the agony of foreclosures and published a blog and gave of my time and money to people in need. I made friends, helped people and now, despite no intent to do so, I have a business with associates of good intent whom I trust and who trust me. 

My hope is that my children and grandchildren have come to know this about me and that I serve as model for their lives, despite all the mistakes and lapses in parenting to which I now confess and all those which I don’t even realize. I see in them the sense of integrity in their lives and the willingness of others to have complete faith in them. I like that. I’m proud of them. 

I’m blessed to have good relatives, a good wife, good children, and good friends whom I love and who love me. I’ll mess up more before I shed this mortal coil, but on the whole, I think I am doing OK. 

—Neil Garfield, May 31, 2008

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Here is an article I found on the net that I thought was particularly good reading:

The Head of a Family Tree 
Torah Portion: Bamidbar
by Rabbi Stephen Baars 

 

“When one learns as a child, it is like ink on fresh paper; when one learns as an old man, it is like ink on erased paper.” (Pirkei Avos 4:25)

 

There is a true story about an 8-year-old boy who came home from school one day to find his house on fire. As the blaze raged on, the boy’s mother stood there and cried. “It is awful to lose our home and possessions,” the mother sobbed, “But most of all, we can never replace our family tree which recorded our lineage back to King David!”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said the boy, “I’ll start a new lineage.” (The boy went on to become a great 19th century rabbi, known as the Maggid of Mezrich.)

 

* * * 

THE KEY INGREDIENTS

We live in a very materialistic society. Many choose to spend their time acquiring objects rather than acquiring their children’s admiration.

We tend to worry more over bills than morals. We tend to get upset with others quicker than we apologize.

These are the values of our society. The question is do we want to make these the values of our children? How we choose to approach life is going to be how our children will, too. Following the path of society will make us as memorable to our descendants as an old movie.

Here’s a typical scenario to consider:

When you get a dent in the car, do you panic and get angry? Or do you put it into perspective and realize there are more important things in life to fret about?

Getting upset may help vent your anger – but it also shows your child what is really important in life. The car may be repaired and the dent removed, but the dent in your child’s personality does not come out so easily.

Children will not ask their parents for advice if the parents are not perceived as being truly happy. If life is always “getting to you,” then your kids are not going to ask you how to manage life. In fact, they’ll probably want to give you advice instead!

 

* * * 

SOMEONE THE CHILDREN WILL BE PROUD OF

The Torah tells us that Abraham would actually seek out strangers and offer them a meal. This was not the norm then and it’s certainly not the norm now. It affected his children and grandchildren. And until today, the Jewish People are known for their kindness to strangers.

Will you teach your kids that it’s more important to have the most exquisite sofa – or to have the most guests using that sofa?

Be kinder than everyone else… Be more forgiving than everyone else… Be more giving and willing to help than everyone else… Be more patient than everyone else…

Your generosity toward others is more likely to create an exceptional child than any amount of schooling – no matter how high the tuition.

A story:

Two women, Sarah and Rachel, recently met in the grocery store. Since Sarah was pregnant, Rachel asked if there was anything she could do to help out. Sarah’s mother (who was visiting from out-of-town) said, “Sure, I need to go to the other side of town to visit my elderly uncle. Will you drive me back and forth?”

Sarah immediately pulled Rachel aside and apologized, saying that her mother didn’t realize that Rachel had four small children of her own to take care of.

“It’s fine, I’d be happy to take your mother,” Rachel said. “I’ll just put all the kids in the car and we’ll go for a ride. It’s good for my children to see me doing a kindness for a stranger. It’s my pleasure, it really is.”

With the high price of education – and the small price of patience, charity, and kindness – shouldn’t we be more involved with the “bargains?”

We are willing to put in the effort to make our children richer and more comfortable than ourselves. How much more meaningful would it be to make them happier and kinder than ourselves.

 

* * * 

CHOOSE YOUR LEGACY

When your children reflect back on your life, will they see an inspiring leader who made a profound impact on the world – or will they see a parent who merely “followed the crowd,” just another brick in the wall?

You don’t start a lineage by conforming.

A good rule to follow: Instead of worrying what everyone else is saying about you, worry that your children will have something good to say about you, to everyone else.

We find this principle expressed in this week’s parsha. When God commands Moses to count the Jewish People, Moses is told to enlist the help of the tribal heads: “And with you (Moses) shall be one man from each tribe, each man should be the head of his family” (Numbers 1:4).

Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz explained the expression, “the head of his family” as someone who is the beginning of a new lineage. The “head” is the start of a new line. In other words, someone the children will be proud of.

What do we want our children to remember about us? Our striving for a more enriched life? Our quest for constant personal growth? Will they look to our lives for inspiration, for solutions to their problems? Will we be for them a lasting influence – or nothing more than a quaint memory? What a depressing thought if our children would think of us as irrelevant!

It would be nice to think that we could be sources of wisdom for our children. That they will bring to us the problems they face. That they will seek our advice. That in a crisis they will ask, “How would Mom and Dad deal with that?”

We are already going to spend a major amount of time, money and effort on our children. Why not spend a little more effort … and transform them into our legacy.

 

* * * 

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: If you could write your own tombstone, what five praises or achievements would you like engraved on it?

Question 2: Ask your children who their heroes are. Are they the kind of role models you would chose for them?

Question 3: If you could magically instill one character trait or moral value into your children, what would it be? Now – what are you doing to make that a reality?

Author Biography:
Rabbi Stephen Baars came to Washington, D.C. in 1992 and serves as Executive Director of Aish DC/MD/VA. Aish has classes almost every night of the week in its N. Bethesda location, and day classes all over the city. Aish’s student body includes Senators, Congressmen, business professionals, and Jews from all walks of life and religious backgrounds.

Born and educated in London, Baars received rabbinical ordination after nine years of learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. With a wry sense of humor and creative approach to teaching, Baars is famed as the only rabbi to perform stand-up comedy at The Improv in Santa Monica, California.

Steve is married to Ruth Baars and they are blessed with six children.


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ECONOMICS OF DESPAIR

March 8, 2008

The reading for this week centers on the building and rebuilding of the Tabernacle. It is said that the translation states or implies that Moses built and rebuilt the Tabernacle several times per day. 

The lesson offered by scholars is that life is a constant process of building and rebuilding. In today’s economic conditions, people are running into all sorts of tragic challenges. We offer compassion and empathy. Yet it is only when we suffer the same or similar challenges that we can truly empathize with another person who is striving to keep his family his home, his business or his job intact. 

Belief in spiritual process can help, but in life, you have to buy a ticket to ride. If you don’t DO anything, then it is unlikely that anything will change for you. You are not to drown in despair but remake yourself.

It is actually an exciting even if daunting process. “The Slonimer Rebbe uses this Midrash to teach us a vital lesson. Although we spend our lives toiling and struggling to build ourselves into sanctuaries – vessels worthy for the Divine Presence to rest within – there still may be times that we stumble and fall. Despite these low periods, however, we must never give up hope. Rather, we must rouse ourselves immediately and continue to strengthen and build ourselves, because it is forbidden for a Jew to fall into despair.”

Consider foreclosure and eviction. You have choices. You can find another place to live or challenge the right of the lender to foreclose. Chances are there were defects and flaws in the original documentation that can at least delay the process and possibly force the lender, who doesn’t want another house in their inventory, to settle or modify your loan. Call the lender and discuss it. File papers in Court even if you don’t have a lawyer. Rattle the cage, shake the branches, assert yourself as as human being who is not defined by fiancial trouble. 

Consider jobs. Do whatever you can to tackle those high profile jobs that your boss will recognize and be reluctant to consider letting you go. If you have already lost your job, consider retraining for another one or look around you and see if there is something that people need that you could provide in your own business.  

Consider Yourself: Who do you want to be. What model to you want to exemplify to your children, your spouse, your friends, relatives and acquaintances?  Answer the question! Then act on it.

Highest Form of Charity

February 2, 2008

Most people, including myself, consider tzedakah to be at its highest form when the donor and recipient are unknown to each other. Yet there is something even higher.

“The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.” http://judaism.about.com/od/beliefs/a/charity_nine.htm

This is the act of parenting, befriending, and reaching out. It is the act of teaching what you know from the point of view of the recipient. It is my way of proving my own worth to myself, knowing that each day I have done something, said something or felt something that gets passed on, or “paid forward.” It isn’t enough to have the “audacity of hope” (which is the perfect starting point). We must act on hope and do things that bring our hopes and dreams into reality. 

The courage and commitment to act can be great or small. A gangly African American with the name of Barack (close to baruch, blessing) is at this time taking the ultimate leap of hope and faith and putting his life on the line for it. Most of us are not imbued with the ambition and fortitude it takes to do that unless the threat of extinction comes close. But we all have something of that in us and acting on it is what could make our society more ethical, more fair, with justice and sufficient resources for everyone. 

We have all learned lessons of faith and responsibility. We have all had our moments of truth where we shared our best thoughts for the best benefit of someone else. My prayer this morning is that we all do just a little bit more than we did yesterday, starting today, as our gift to G-d for this day and any additional days granted to us in this life. 

Mortgage Meltdown: Ten Commandments

January 26, 2008

Ten Commandments and the Mortgage Meltdown

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder, 7) commit adultery, 8) steal, 9) bear false witness or 10) covet another’s property.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moses and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moses should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

People often ignore their faith by failing to consider the effect of living their faith as good people rather than living strictly accordingly to the laws of necessity. Necessity is of the moment and in the eyes of the beholder. The events leading up to Mount Sinai and the delivery of the ten commandments constitute the first successful attempt to organize a civilized society that would function in accordance with the consent of the governed, based upon a higher good, and administered by people chosen for their wisdom. 

Religion: It might seem a stretch to connect the economic problems facing the world today and the possible remedies under spiritual analysis but consider, just for a moment, the possibility that people were motivated not by saving their property, blaming another, punishing the people who put us in this mess and giving vent to anger. Let’s take a look.

The first Commandment is to believe in G-d. Everyone has an opinion on this. The choices boil down to three (a) belief, (b) not sure (Agnostic) and (c) non-belief. Dig down deep and you will find a believer in some higher power in every agnostic and atheist. Dig just a little and you will discover that nearly everyone knows right from wrong and their knowledge and belief as to right and wrong is pretty much covered by the ten commandments or something like it in the scriptures of some other faith.

So let’s approach the commandments as a heuristic (rule of thumb) theory that most of us would agree with on one level or another regardless of our religious preference or our preference in expressing belief in a higher power or being. In fact, that takes care of the the first commandment: belief in a higher power whether physical or spiritual is all that is necessary to satisfy its requirement.

Don’t worship idols. As Suze Ormand says, put people first, not money. Money is an idol not a thing. It is a concept that facilitates commerce as long as people are willing to accept the concept. It changes in form from wampum, to beads, to giant rocks to precious metals, precious gems, coinage, written promises of redemption into precious objects, fiat money (paper declared to be money by the government because they say so), digital forms used in electronic payment systems, and more exotic concepts like derivatives which create changes in our money supply without the help or interference of our supposed lender of last resort, the Federal Reserve. Most of us spend more time on issues concerning money than issues concerning G-d or the other commandments. 

My point is that if you pursue money at the cost of the other commandments, you will end up with neither. The reason has nothing to do with G-d’s wrath. It has everything to do with staying with fundamental straightforward conduct of commerce that everyone can understand and that can be counted using the most primitive of systems. Wall Street professionals, of which I am one, are fond of saying that in the end it is the fundamentals that count. But they don’t — not now and not for a long time. 

Don’t take G-d’s name in vain. Whether you are an evangelical preacher or a Wall Street tycoon, don’t pretend that your words come from G-D or are inspired by G-d — unless you can prove it. And you can prove it by showing that you are living the life of a pious person who follows the commandments. You are not following it if you use G-d’s name to get money from someone else and put it into your own pocket for your use. Note that I do not condemn or even disfavor commerce. I merely offer the judgement that if the commerce is done in G-d’s name it is a false claim. 

Keep the Sabbath. Here is where we cut to the chase. If you really wish to live a life of peace, contentment, satisfaction and goodness, then you will allow time to contemplate your existence in this dimension,universe or world or whatever you wish to call it. A little prayer, a little reading, a little observance of some ritual that reminds you and your family that the leader of the family sets the tone of everyone’s life by instructing the children on the concepts of right and wrong, and brings the children within a community of like-minded individuals. Or you can try to make one more deal and worship the idol of money and wealth, or football and worship the idol of competition rather than cooperation. The assumption of Adam Smith with his faith-based “invisible hand” is true only in the abstract. we can only approximate it by our own good behavior. In the end, we are creatures exhibiting both competitive and cooperative qualities. How we reconcile and channel those qualities for the good of our selves and those around us is the great challenge of humanity and the meaning of our lives.

Honor parents. We live in a society where many children barely see or know their parents, who are busy acquiring material things or otherwise pursuing goals in life that have little to do with the bond of parent and child. Taken in a broader sense, honoring our parents goes back generations when people conducted commerce and social events for the benefit of themselves and others. Children need models, not money as a substitute for attention. If we want our children to honor us, we must earn it by giving them all we can of our wisdom and a true sense of right and wrong. A child honors his/her parents by committing themselves to being educated — but only if the parents show an interest in the child’s education. Every study of every kind provides us with the inescapable conclusion that a child that develops in a home where reading, analysis and articulation of ideas is a way of life, does well in school. Every study shows that the more successful a child is in school the more likely he/she will be in life in attaining meaning, content and satisfaction. And every such child will be led by their own inner sense to honor their parents. Buying things you don’t need, or don’t want shortly after you buy them leads a child to see your unhappiness and leads them to search for ways different than the way you conduct your life. Arguments over money and spending leads memories of discontent rather than a model that the child will follow to honor his/her parents.

Don’t Murder. This seems obvious. Yet scratch the surface and you find that we, as a society, promote, allow and create conditions all over the world which resulted in the needless death — violent and otherwise — of millions of children, women and men. You may say this is not your intent. But if you know the result of your action or inaction will be produce the death of someone, what’s the difference?

Don’t commit adultery. In a world of people seeking contentment and satisfaction, unguided by the principles of basic right and wrong, adultery is a natural consequence. Commitment to one’s spouse and family, no matter how difficult or challenging, is far more likely to deliver the results you seek.

Don’t steal. Our sophisticated financial systems have taken the “art” of stealing to new heights and produced the greatest fraud on mankind in human history — the mortgage meltdown and credit crisis where thousands of towns, villages and counties are suffering from a decrease in revenue from their tax base because of the schemes of those who sought money for nothing, commerce without risk.  They took the lives of millions of people who wanted homes and millions of people who wanted to invest their money in safe investments, and created a bubble of lies. It worked too well. And now we have the problem and opportunity of remaking our world in the model we all seek. We may need new currency, new nations drawn from old boundaries, and new regulation and transparency that will reveal those in our midst who will ignore all moral precepts and seek only personal gain. The mortgage meltdown crisis was theft: from borrowers on one end and investors on the other end.

Don’t bear false witness: In short, don’t lie, ever. And don’t give the time of day to those who do. If we followed that, our government would be made up of different people, operating under different principles (originally set forth in our constitution and declaration of independence) and with far different result. Indifference to the suffering of others, education of our young to avoid mistakes we don’t want in our society, would be minimized. I’ve asked about a hundred people the following question: If you had a button that you could push and the result would be that everyone in government would be fired, would you push it, the answer was yes in every case. The reason cited was lies.

Don’t covet another’s property. It seems that in our world right and wrong have been turned upside down. The objective in commerce is to get you to part with your property and have it in the possession of another. The objective is not to add value to each other’s lives. Our social and economic policies have gone down the historical path of channeling wealth from the people who can’t afford it to the people who don’t need it. As the foreclosures, dislocations, bankruptcies and dissolution of families takes another giant leap forward, social unrest becomes a an increasing probability. Maybe, as Jefferson said, a little revolution now and then is a good thing. But is it necessary?

Find Your Outrage, Abandon Your Despair

November 10, 2007


I read the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution with much the same interest and devotion as I do the Torah. It is true that much in history as recorded in our myths, stories and laws is based upon one or more perceptions of one or more mere mortals. Yet they are not irrelevant. Whether we are looking at Genesis, or the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, these things have penetrated our consciousness, they affect our perceptions and we make decisions about our behavior based upon what we perceive as truth within the context of our own stories and myths.

And yet, despite the differences amongst us, there are common notions of right and wrong, of good and bad. This is what Thomas Jefferson told us when he wrote of unalienable rights and natural law. The Declaration and the U.S. Constitution are in the final analysis the creation of a few people, but the powers of the people, the naturals laws that govern their lives, are the inner knowledge, whether expressed or not, of all people.

Our country cherishes freedom, liberty, and protection of life, and property with “due process of law.” Yet as the base nature of those with ambitions greater than their fellow human beings take over, government sometimes becomes an instrument of those who have power and wealth and who seek to serve themselves rather than their society. This is inevitable. The correction is with natural law as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution (all powers derive from “We the people”), and ninth amendment to the Constitution which reserves those rights to the people — not to the states nor even the Federal government. The 5th and 14th Amendment go even further to assure protection of our basic unalienable rights providing for due process and equal protection of the laws.

It is therefore the right, indeed the duty, of people to correct their government when it errs and hurts the society as a whole, and to remove either the people appointed or elected to positions of power, or to remove the powers themselves to restore law and order.

We are faced with a series of events that affect our basic existence, in which our government has been the instrument of monied interests and has acted against the interests of its citizens or refused to act in the interest of its citizens, giving special privilege to some (violating equal opportunity and protection under the laws) and denying the rights of people to their own homes, safe food, and access to substances and protocols that would save the lives of our children, our grandchildren and even ourselves. This government even refuses to protect our borders from invasion, which under any interpretation could only be called treason under man-made law.

We have reached that point in human events, where the people who are the sole source of all power in our country can and should make the corrections necessary to save people from the threat of losing their homes due to unscrupulous use of derivative securities (collateralized debt obligations, which threaten our viability as nation in the world commerce), to save people from eating poisonous food, and to grant everyone access to the American dream of health, prosperity and happiness. It is our duty under God and under our man-made laws.

Resist the normal legal process of foreclosure, refuse to play by the rules created by those who are no more than predators and whose agents continue to make money off of the misfortune of those whoa re threatened with losing their property and refuse to leave when called upon to do so. Overload the “system” with the two million people expected to be foreclosed and refuse to leave the homes you purchased in good faith and force the correction by using your unalienable right to vote, to remove people from power who misuse it, and remove powers from government that were never intended to be used as a source of tyranny against the great majority of Americans. 

As in the Torah, appoint inspectors of food and food processing or actually present and protect us from poison and protect livestock from inhumane treatment. No tainted food should be allowed to enter any household, any state or even the country. Merchants who sell such food should be branded as outcasts. 

What person with any sense of right and wrong would deny a person the right the live because they don’t have the money to pay for medical services? The reason that medical care costs more in this country than  other countries, is because we let it happen. 

Profit and purpose have been reversed. We, the people, need to make a correction. It isn’t that we can’t afford it. We already pay for it. The costs and savings should b reallocated fairly, equally over society, not into the hands of the insurance companies who control the amounts that get paid and the treatment that will be available, the pharmaceutical companies that control the medicines that are available and the prices of those medicines, and the providers of medical services who have left the traditional philosophy of “first do no harm” and entered the world of playing with people’s lives as though they were toys. 

If we find our outrage,if we lose our despair and see the world and our lives as capable of improvement, then we will prevail and the world will be right again, with each succeeding generation looking forward to a better future, with greater justice, fairness and quality of life.