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Parshas Vayeitzay - Risk + Investment = Success     7 Cheshvan 5782

11/11/2021 01:28:20 PM


This past week the Shul hosted people who were visiting  San Diego to attend an actuarial conference. Some of them, due to responsibilities at the conference, arrived late;  as I reviewed the times and dates of the Shul activities and informed them of all the codes necessary to access the Shul, I made a remark about numbers and figures:  “One of our congregants asked one of the guests, what are some of the best actuarial jokes out there? The actuary immediately quirked,  ’None.’” That may well be the case! People view actuaries as numbers people with no sense of humor, ha ha. While it may be true for some, it isn’t necessarily true for all of them.

There are many kinds of insurance: auto, renter’s, homeowners, flood, earthquake, malpractice, fire, theft, collision, liability, etc. Do we get them all? Is every insurance policy necessary? Are we obligated under the law to buy and maintain insurance? Some people are risk takers, and each person has a different tolerance level. Even those who choose to take out an insurance policy still have a number of choices to make regarding coverage limits and costs for deductibles. Generally speaking, a lower premium will yield a higher deductible while a higher premium will reflect a lower deductible. And then…there is the ultimate question: Do we need insurance? Is buying Insurance permitted in Halacha or is it showing a lack of faith in Hashem? Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l has a responsa in the Igros Moshe Orach Chaim IV #48 - “Permissibility: Relationship to Bitachon” (faith).  Another rather crucial concern is the insurance companies.  Like all other businesses, insurance companies constantly evaluate ways to boost profits while cutting losses. It is up to the savvy consumer to take the time each year to review the renewal policy – even if the overall cost and premium remain the same as the previous year.  As an aside, here is an interesting analogy: just as orange juice containers tend to be priced similarly, the actual containers may contain fewer ounces – a range of sixty-four to fifty-nine ounces in a container.  In other words, the insurance premium may be the same, but the coverage is not.  Insurance varies greatly, depending upon age, gender, overall health, geographic location, & so forth.  

The field of actuarial science mathematically calculates all these variables to arrive at  a price tag. Actuaries are highly skilled specialists in quantifying risk, critical to the insurance industry. Actuaries earning CAS credentials work primarily in the property and casualty insurance industry, in areas such as personal lines insurance (e.g., auto, homeowners), commercial lines insurance (e.g., medical malpractice, workers compensation), and reinsurance.  Actuaries assess and manage the risks of financial investments, insurance policies, and other potentially risky ventures. They assess financial risks, combining theories of probability, economic theory, statistical analysis, and computer science. According to the Society of Actuaries, approximately 48 percent of actuaries in the U.S. work for insurance companies. The use of statistics and percentages to analyze financial impact is seen in Halacha and in the Torah.  We will be reading one of the primary sources in our Torah portion this week.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeitzay states in Bereishis 28:20-22 "וידר יעקב נדר לאמר, אם יהיה אלוקים עמדי ושמרני בדרך הזה אשר אנכי הולך ונתן לי לאכל ובגד ללבש. ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי, והיה ה' לי לאלוקים. והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלוקים וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך"  “Jacob made a vow. ‘If God will be with me’, he said, ‘if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then I will dedicate myself totally to God. Let this stone that I have set up as a pillar become a temple to God. Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You’. This is nothing short of a typical insurance policy! Namely the Neder is the contract: protection, bread, clothing, and safe return home is the Coverage; the Premium is the ten percent.

But was Yaakov Avinu only looking for financial security? On the one hand, based upon many commentaries that Darshan/expound upon the double language of ‘ahsair t’ahsair’ to indicate that if someone gives his ten percent of earnings, he or she will be rewarded, receiving a return of double or some kind of financial benefit far beyond the initial charitable investment.  

Rav Moshe Shternbuch in his sefer Ta’am V’Daas explains the need to infer that the giving of Maaser (ten percent) is not specifically about money or financial giving and receiving. Rather, everything that God gives and bestows upon us - even the wisdom with which He endows us - needs to be tithed. The reward a person will merit and receive will be filled with blessing and success. It is said in the name of Reb Moshe Shapiro zt”l that he instructed the students of the yeshiva to dedicate and grant one hour per day to help others become wiser. He coined a phrase for this time as “Avodas HaKodesh”- holy service. He promised, he guaranteed those students that if they followed his word, they would merit excellence and success in their own learning. It is also said in the name of Reb Shimon Shkop zt”l, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shaar HaTorah in Grodno, ”Just as tzedakah (righteousness) with money has a segula/treasure to become wealthy, so, too, in spirituality: if a person with extraordinary talent in knowledge separates and ‘tithes’ his time for someone else, he will be guaranteed sevenfold of spirituality greatness.

Reb Shimon Shkop was not only ‘suggesting’ a student to do this; he made it a requirement of the entire student body. There are stories told that there were certain students in the Yeshiva who, even after davening for Heavenly assistance in their Torah learning and growth, did not see it until they accepted upon themselves this commitment to contribute an hour a day of their studies to learn with someone weaker than they.

How and why the ten percent became the secret number of successes is beyond the scope of this article. In fairness the Gemara Kesubos 50 puts a twenty percent limit to give. According to most opinions this law applies only to agriculture and not necessarily to cash. Nevertheless, the lesson is that when we give, we get back, receiving in turn an even greater amount than we contributed.

No two people are created the same; some have talent in one area while others are stronger in another area. Every human being is ‘wealthy’ in some talent or skill. Every one of us  has the ability to share that knowledge and information, assisting those who are lacking in that area. It behooves individuals to seek out their blessing that Hashem has given them and use it in some fashion to share and help those less fortunate who could be elevated, assisted by your help. This, in essence, is a vital insurance policy for our future in both the physical and spiritual realms of life, both here in this world and in the world to come. Yaakov Avinu took out the first policy; we, his children, need to renew the policy every year to ensure the continued kindness with which Hashem created the world. It is our responsibility that we continue to maintain it.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky 

Wed, December 8 2021 4 Teves 5782