Few government plans have caused more furor and fury, more debate and deliberation than the $789 billion economic stimulus plan approved by both the Congress and the Senate back on Feb. 11. President Obama’s plan will pump billions of dollars into health care, education, transportation, and other sectors. It will also provide individuals and businesses with a wide array of tax cuts.
Stimulus plans are built on the premise that sometimes you need to give people money in order to get them to spend it. Or, to put it in the more official terms of the Congressional Budget Office, “Fiscal stimulus aims to boost economic activity during periods of economic weakness by increasing short-term aggregate demand.” Pour money into the economy and you’ll create jobs, which will give people paychecks which they’ll spend on goods and services, which will provide more jobs and more paychecks in a wonderful cycle of growth. While no plan is quite that simple, and the economic stimulus plan has plenty of detractors, the idea (if not the plan itself) certainly has its merits on paper.
Legislators across the nation are scrambling to get their piece of the pie as the stimulus money is being divvied out. A variety of industries hope the stimulus will be an answer to their prayers, and individuals are punching numbers to see what sort of tax break they’ll be eligible for. It’s impossible to open a newspaper and not see an article, or two or three, about the stimulus plan.
But in just a few days, we’ll be sitting around the Seder table, far removed from the frenetic world of finance. We’ll lean like kings, drink four cups of wine, and tell the story of the Jewish nation’s… stimulus plan.
By the time we had been in Egypt for 210 years, we had reached rock bottom. The Chosen Nation was mired in the muck of Egypt. We had descended forty-nine levels of impurity. One more slip, and we’d be irredeemable. In a shower of miracles, G-d plucked us from the depravity of Egypt in the nick of time.
After seven days of wandering the desert, we saw that we were being pursued by the Egyptians. The blood-thirsty army was behind, the Reed Sea was ahead, and death seemed inevitable. But then, at the very last moment, G-d performed the greatest miracle of all. The sea split and we walked through it on dry land. When the crazed Egyptians galloped in after us, the waves came crashing down upon them.
Up in heaven there was turmoil. “They (the Jews) served idols, and they (the Egyptians) served idols,” the angels claimed. Why the preferential treatment? Why did the Jews walk through the water while the Egyptians drowned? Their answer came just a short while later.
Seven weeks after we left Egypt we stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah. “We will do and we will listen” we cried out. We embraced G-d and the commandments He gave us. We each received two celestial crowns. How did a nation at the forty-ninth level of impurity reach the dazzling height of angels? Through the first, and most successful, stimulus plan.
G-d looked at us in Egypt and focused not on the layers of dirt but on the awesome spirituality of our forefathers – spirituality which remained within us. He looked not at how we’d fallen but how we could rise. But there was a problem. We had to undergo the transformation from slaves to saints but we no longer had the ability to do so on our own. So G-d gave us an incredible infusion of spirituality. On Pesach He poured upon us dazzling miracles, revelation the likes of which no future prophet would ever see, blindingly beautiful clarity.
Like every stimulus, the debt eventually had to be repaid. Once we were saved from the Reed Sea, the work began. We had six weeks to work our way up the ladder, to obtain – through our own efforts – the level we had been given as a gift. And we delivered. Week by week, rung by rung, we climbed up the ladder G-d had set before us. We shed our bad habits, abandoned our idolatrous practices, and followed G-d’s commandments. By the time we received the Torah we bore little resemblance to the battered nation that had fled Egypt.
The Jewish year is not about commemoration, it’s about reliving. Each holiday is not simply a chance to remember what happened to our forefathers, it’s an opportunity to experience that which they went through. Over 2,000 years ago, G-d revealed Himself to us on Pesach. Today, as we sit at our Seder table, we can experience a glimmer, an echo, of that revelation. We can get it even if we don’t deserve it, even if we aren’t worthy of such closeness. For leil ha’Seder is the night of stimulus payments. We then have seven weeks of sefiras haomer to make that gift truly our own, to internalize it so it doesn’t dissipate.
This stimulus payment won’t make headlines or spark debate in Congress. But it can transform our lives. Let’s spend it wisely.
Bassi Gruen is a licensed social worker, a professional writer, and the Editorial Director of Targum Press. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications and is the author of A Mother’s Musings, a collection of articles taking an honest look at the challenges and joys of motherhood. She lives with her husband, her children, and her dreams in Beitar Illit.