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Topic: Bad & Good News at the Same Time

Marvin Peyser wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Here is a question for you. I own stocks in some companies that are not doing too well these days. (What stock is?) Anyway, some of these companies just announced massive layoffs, in the tens of thousands. This will result in lower costs, therefore greater profits, and I'm liable to make some money on it when the stock subsequently rises. (One company's stock went up 5% just with the announcement of the layoffs.)

My question is: I would like to feel joyful that my stock will rise, but then I am reminded that tens of thousands of families will have lost their income. This is a dilemma. Is there any Torah insight on this?

Dear Marvin Peyser,

First, I'd like to say that your question shows a great deal of sensitivity, compassion, and market savvy.

How should you feel when others lose their jobs while your stock rises? Bad and good. Feel bad that others have lost their jobs, and glad that your stocks went up.

The Talmud actually deals with this idea of relating to contradictory emotional stimuli. The Talmud's example regards how to relate to a parent's death when at the same time that death brings financial relief to the child.

If someone hears that his father has died, leaving him and his brothers an inheritance, what blessing does he say? Should he say, "Blessed is G-d, the True Judge," which is the blessing accepting G-d's will upon hearing sad news? Or, should he say "Blessed is He who is Good and who bestows good," which is the blessing for good news which benefits him and others, such as here where he and his brothers have become wealthy?

The Talmud states that he should say both blessings. First the blessing for the bad news, and afterwards the blessing for the good news.

This can be understood as recognition that people can feel contradictory emotions; an event which has positive and negative aspects can be experienced as such. I think an important part of this lesson is that a person shouldn't feel guilty for experiencing the happy aspects of a bad situation. It doesn't necessarily mean that he is insensitive.

With that, I would like to tell you a true story. A rabbi I know once called the police to report his teenage son, last seen riding his bicycle, missing. Later that day the police phoned asking the rabbi to come and view the body of a boy, matching his son's description, who had been hit by a car while riding his bike.

The Rabbi later told that while he and his wife were in the car on their way to identify the body, he had hoped for a fleeting moment that the sight which would greet his eyes would not be that of his son. "But if it's not my son," he realized, "then it will be someone else's son, and my joy will be someone else's tragedy. If it is my son, others will be spared."

That thought gave him courage and helped him accept the sight that did greet his eyes, the sight of his beloved son.

  • Tractate Berachot 59b

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