Friday, December 26, 2008

Cycles of Wealth

While we look on with dismay, disbelief and even horror at the grand reversals being played out across the global economy, it is interesting to ponder the biblical echos of just such an event.

In biblical times, the superpower of the world was Egypt. Like all civilizations, Egypt went through times of great power and wealth and times of uncommon weakness and poverty. The Egyptians were, after all, completely dependent on the waters of the Nile.

Genesis (Chapter 40) relates that in the time of Joseph, the land of Egypt, and in fact the entire Middle East, suffered a great boom and bust cycle. Seven years of abundance were followed by seven years of famine. Throughout the region, people suffered from the famine, except in Egypt where they tightened their belts and lowered their standard of living. Because of the provisions in Egypt, everyone else came there to buy food.

Egypt was no more blessed than any other country except for the fact that a brilliant young man named Joseph had understood Pharoah’s dream and planned for the future. During the seven years of plenty, as the viceroy, Joseph forced the Egyptians to store all excess grain in anticipation of the famine to come.

Chassidic parables speak of life as a wheel of fortune. One who is rich today may be poor next year...and may return to wealth again in the future. No doubt the years of famine were difficult. But, it was over after only seven years, and fortunately did not last for an eternity.

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