Your Future is Calling
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, The Observant Jew
While driving on a highway, I saw a billboard from a financial planning company. It was not the first time I’d seen it nor the first time it caught my attention. The sign said, “We spend more time reading billboards than planning for our retirement.”
What I found great and powerful about that is that it’s based on a fact: I just read a billboard and I totally wasn’t thinking about retirement planning! How did they know?
The first time I read it, I recall thinking that it was a good point. We don’t generally think ahead enough. Most of us have enough trouble paying the bills today without worrying how we’ll pay them tomorrow, or in ten, twenty, or more years from now.
Billboards are entertaining and pass the time while we’re driving. Planning for retirement is real work that requires our brains. Is it any wonder that people are more prone to read billboards than to plan a retirement fund?
Of course, it’s also an unfair comparison because we may spend many hours a day in our cars passing road signs. It’s not that we’re choosing to read them rather than think of how to support ourselves when we’re no longer working, but that reading them is something we do while doing something else, like commuting to work or school. Those were my thoughts in the past.
This time however, I had another insight and that’s what drove me (sorry…) to write about it. You see, the biggest difference between billboards and retirement planning is that other people are paying for the signs to be there to grab my attention. Planning for retirement is something I have to be motivated to do on my own. Of course, in this case the financial company is capitalizing on my noticing billboards to push me to do it.
So, the reason we spend time reading billboards is because they’re there and make us think. If there were more billboards about retirement planning we’d probably be better at taking care of it or at least it would be on our minds more.
But as with most things, I don’t just see them as earthly messages. I try to see them in relation to being a Jew. That means not just worrying about supporting myself as long as I live, but putting enough away for my afterlife. It also means that I have to somehow work the billboards into the equation.
So, if we’re looking at Olam HaBa as our retirement, then what we’re putting away is not money, but merits. It’s not stocks and bonds but other investments that will pay the kind of dividends we need to live on when we can’t do mitzvos on our own.
If we were smart, we’d be thinking about these investments every day. R’ Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg z”l was asked why he wore so many Taleisim at one time. He replied, “If you have a business, you want to have a lot of customers. Since to Jewish people mitzvos are our business, I also want to have a lot of customers!” He thought like a long-term investor.
People who give to others are creating residual income. If they support a Kollel, then they have the merit of the Torah learned. If they give to a hospital or Hatzolah or Magen David Adom, they may save a life and have the merit of all the mitzvos that person does after he or she has been saved.
If you teach someone, or help him or her financially and they are able to be productive, then you get a share in the merits of all that they achieve. Just about the only time you’re not building up your eternal nest egg is when you’re actually focused on your earthly retirement. If you hold onto your money for your old age, you may find that it’s wasted because you saved more than you needed. Of course, if your plan is how to provide for your family when you’re gone, that can earn ongoing credits, but you have to make sure that’s on your mind.
OK, but what about the billboards? How do those fit in?
In most cases, as we said before, they are merely a distraction to take your mind off of the drive. In life, the “billboards” are the things that divert our attention from our journey and make us forget where we’re headed. They entertain or enlighten us and tout roadside attractions but rarely do they make us think about our ultimate destination.
That’s where the Financial Planning billboard comes in. That’s the one that reminds us how much time we’re busy with the detours rather than the direct route. Those are the signs that HaShem puts in our lives to make us stop and think.
Sometimes they may be tragedies that make us reconsider the frailty of life. Sometimes they take the form of joyous events that transcend physical existence or the form of spiritual inspiration that points us in the right direction. It might even be something as simple as this article that makes you think about your long-term needs down the road.
So when you see these signs, don’t think of them as just another billboard. Think of them as an important reminder from someone Who is concerned about your eternal happiness – and start planning. Your future self will thank you.
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