Thursday, January 24, 2013

Financial Tzniut & the Ayin Hara

Wow, I must be boring.

We are in my SEVENTH MONTH of our law firm bleeding money.  I have fired all of my workers and it is just me left in our empty office.  I sit here each day looking around the blogs and the news articles for my next area of practice.  Where are defendants being hurt the most?  Who is hurting people in a way that they would decide to call a lawyer?  And, what area are ordinary people being affected where they would go to a small-town-lawyer-with-a-laptop and an internet connection (an attorney like me) whereas the big corporations would hire the big name law firms.

I've courted the concepts of returning to black-and-white patent work.  The problem is that I talked about it a lot, but when it came down to clients retaining me, there wasn't that much going on.  "I could hit it in a big way," I think, but then it would be a decision to commit to going "Gung Ho" in this area to the exclusion of everything else.  Doing anything "gung ho" scares me because if I fail, then that's it.

In short, I have cut out all expenses and have dedicated myself these past few weeks to only doing research into new areas of law.  I have a few treatises on patent drafting, patent litigation, patent licensing, copyright law, and federal practice.  I am reading through these with a fury trying to get competent in the areas so that I can come up with ideas on what to do and what to practice and how to do it.  The problem with all of these is that I wonder whether a small time lawyer can do something as big as defending or fighting a patent battle. I also wonder how someone like me can attract new clients.  It's all so overwhelming.

Anyway, my personal life is no doubt suffering by my career stresses as well.  I come home cheerful, but my wife knows I am stressed.  I spend my evenings doing work, researching the blogs, and maybe having some time for a show on  When I am not doing this, sometimes I isolate myself emotionally and just focus for hours of time on a video game.  I know this is not good for my marriage, but I'm having a difficult time coping with all this.

The issue which I keep cycling back to is G-d.  Obviously I need to make my own "vessel" for blessings to flow through them, and the way to create this vessel is by studying Torah, doing mitzvos, and davening to Hashem.  I've been working on this more than ever, but I feel that when everything breaks down, well, my Torah study falters, I isolate myself from my community, and I really don't want to daven to Hashem because I'm a bit bitter about everything that is going on.

In sum, when everything was good, I was showing up to minyanim (as much as I could), I was learning Torah each day (sometimes even with a schedule and with multiple chevrusas), and holy smokes -- if you knew the amount of tzedakka I gave last year and the year before, you'd be floored.  Part of me wishes we kept some of that for our savings fund and then things wouldn't be so bad now.

Now that things are dismal, I am really hurting and as childish as this sounds (and as wrong as it is on an intellectual level), I'm quite upset at Hashem for taking away my Parnossa.  We were so good.  We did so much to help people, our community, and our friends as far as giving of our time and our money.  We worked hard, and we did good work.  How is it that everything can be taken from us so quickly?

I've gone over my deeds 100 times, and my wife and I are pretty sure we understand that it must have been our lack of financial modesty (tzniut, or more commonly known as an "Ayin Hara") that has caused such a drastic change in our financial circumstances.  The economy has been so terrible to our family and our friends, and we have been overly happy and thankful for the huge amounts of berachas we have been given both in children, in health, and most of all, parnossa.  We purchased a house (well, we actually only moved into one and are paying rent to my in-laws), we bought a nice (but used) minivan, and we purchased season tickets to Six Flags and various water parks and museums.  We went on vacations visiting family and friends in other states across the U.S., often staying at hotels and eating out in nice restaurants (happily paying for our family who often joined us).  On some occasions, if we couldn't fly, we would sometimes buy tickets for members of our family to visit us, whether it was for a holiday or to allow my wife to visit her family in Israel for a few days.  We went from poverty (not kidding, we were applying for food stamps and low-income health insurance at one point) to riches and wealth literally over the course of months, and everybody around us saw the changes.  And then for almost two years, the money kept flowing in.  We openly attributed everything to Hashem and openly thanked Hashem for everything.

What I think we missed was what my grandmother was always SO CAREFUL about.  Ayin Hara.  Be careful about how you express yourself and your berachas to others, especially those less fortunate than you.  Be careful because unintentionally, one "evil glance," even an unintentional one can cause such a prosecution from above that you can lose everything.  They say that 99 out of 100 people die from an Ayin Hara (or something like that).

Anyway, I think now we need to do some soul searching.  We have already resolved to keep our finances private, even from family.  Publicly, if and when things turn around for our firm, we will keep it quiet.  Success is not something to be touted or screamed from the rooftops because nobody wants to hear how successful you are, or how great you are at some topic.  Rather, keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, and thank G-d for everything you have.


Ahuva said...

Tznius, particularly financial tznius, is incredibly important. I'm really glad that you've both come to that realization. Also, I assume you know that it's ussur to give more than 20% of your income to tzdeka. My rabbi said that 10% of your post-taxes, pre-everything else money is all that is required. If you wish to give more, up to 20% is permitted, but no more. You must leave enough in reserves so that you and your family aren't stressed by normal and natural fluctuations in income. It's a good practice to have 3-6 months of living expenses set aside, more if you're in business for yourself. Part of being tznius with Hashem's gifts is putting yourself financially in a state where you should no risk being dependent on tzeduka yourself if things change.

Your last paragraph is right on. Live modestly and walk humbly in the ways of Hashem.

Anonymous said...

It is basic common fiscal sense to keep 6 months worth of expenses in reserves. When your flush, things could always go the other way. Important to make decisions based on the long term as opposed to the short, especially when you have kids to feed.

Anonymous said...

You are making teshuva. As a chasid you KNOW it's Ein Od Milvado, so it can't be bad. However, may GD send you a revealed miracle and may it be soon.Everything can change in the blink of an eye. Perhaps now is the time to think of aliyah????

Zoe Strickman said...

With all the tuition we pay to OT (especially with 4 kids in school), yes, I think about Aliyah a lot (no tuition). The problem I have with it is...

What are the laws or rules I would need to consider with regard to practicing U.S. law in Israel? I'm sure they have some "Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)" rules. It is a crime in every state in the U.S. I assume its the same there?

Ahuva said...

I would assume that you would have to be licensed to practice law in Israel. I have a friend who was a CPA here and then had to take the Israeli CPA exams in order to become licensed there. A nurse I know also had to get re-certified in order to practice in Israel. I can't imagine that practicing law is less stringent.

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Red Cow said...

Sorry to be so rude, could we make a suggestion?
Have it out with Hashem. Talk to him. Go out to the forest or the fields or just sit in a room alone and speak to the Creator of the World, the King, and our Father. He's the one putting you through this, and it's just because he wants to develop a deeper relationship with you.

Sorry if you don't like our suggestion. We love you no matter what anyway.

Zoe Strickman said...

Its easier in theory than in practice, especially when you're shouting your heart out and nobody shouts back. That being said, I hear ya.

Red Cow said...

Oy, you are so right. I'm sorry.
Forgive me?