In shul on Yom Kippur, we read Sefer Yonah at mincha time. Much of the sefer is about Yonah's attempt to escape from the job that Gd assigned him, which was to get the non-Jewish people in Nineveh to repent. But there's a part of the story that resonated very deeply in me this year in particular.
At the end of the story, after Yonah delivered his prophecy and the people of Nineveh have, indeed, repented their evil ways, Yonah, who was practically suicidal, ran to the east and waited to see what would happen next. Gd made a kikayon, a shady tree, grow unnaturally quickly, like in time-lapse photography, to shade Yonah as he waited on the outskirts of Nineveh. Yonah was very glad for the sudden appearance of this kikayon because it was hot where he was sitting and the tree offered him much shade.
In the morning, Gd sent a worm to eat away at the kikayon and it withered and was no more. What Gd had sent, Gd took away just as quickly. Yonah, already on the verge of despondency, was devastated. Gd was making a point to Yonah about how sad Gd would have been to lose Nineveh, but because of all the learning I've been doing lately, I read it a different way this year.
So far, as a result of the financial crisis currently grasping the world, my family has lost a sizable chunk of change from our retirement accounts. Most people urge us to sit tight, confident that the stock market will rebound and the money will be restored before we need it.
But what if this is the beginning of the end of materialism as we know it? I have begun divesting emotionally from every material thing I own. Before we came face-to-face with this stage of Jewish history, there are things in my American home I expected to take with me to Israel when we finally get to go. But now, I see that I might not have the chance to hold on to them. So I appreciate the bracha of having these things now, knowing that they are not with me forever, and maybe for far less time than I used to suppose.
I can give up the dining room table I inherited from my parents 26 years ago, my special lounge chair, my new side-by-side refrigerator and even the money on our retirement accounts. I pray only that, when the whole world of materialism comes crashing down, Hashem lets me at least take the people I love to Israel.
Yonah was sad when his kikayon was taken from him. But really, it seems, this is the lesson of all material things. As Iyov said, "Naked did I emerge from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. Hashem has given, and Hashem has taken away. Blessed be the name of Hashem." (Iyov 1:21)
This verse resonates on a very deep level today.