I took a deep breath as I read today’s headline, “Bank Fears Go Global as Markets Convulse.” Two American banks failed in the past week and one major European bank is in serious jeopardy. Financial crises can have deep implications for all of us. Many of us remember well the Great Recession of 2007-2009. While the reasons for the recent collapse of these American banks in the past week are complex, many experts point to the banking deregulations in 2018 as leading to a lack of oversight.
Mosaic Law from 3,000 years ago, emphasized the necessity of robust financial supervision. This was so important to Moses that the Book of Exodus cannot conclude without this essential lesson. The dramatic story of our people’s liberation from slavery does not end with a freedom party celebrating at the shores of the sea. The Book of the Exodus concludes with Moses establishing a transparent accounting system for the communal funds of the Jewish people. “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle…,” (Exodus 38:21), Moses declares as he carries out the first public audit in financial history.
The Book of Exodus is about the movement from dictatorship to democracy. Pharaoh had sole authority over the use of his country’s finances. The decision to build pyramids was never a public discussion. After their slave revolt, the Jewish people created a whole new form of government in response to the abuse of power experienced in Egypt. At Sinai we got the Torah, a Constitution. It is a shared document of wisdom that belongs to all of us. The Torah emphasizes that governance and finances must operate with public transparency. Here at our Temple we beautifully preserve this Jewish tradition by holding an Annual Meeting each spring. The Torah is the timeless and timely treasure our people bequeaths to the world. Perhaps if the Torah’s message about financial scrutiny had been more scrupulously observed the current banking crisis might have been averted. I pray the financial crisis abates, and I pray that we may all have the ability to give Tzedakah with open hearts to those in need.
Rabbi David Wilfond