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Parshat Behaalotecha: Is It All About GDP?

The UK's GDP fell by 20.4% in April, the largest fall since monthly records began. This figure will further serve to demonstrate the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown and its inevitable ramifications on society.

But what exactly is meant by GDP, and how is it measured? GDP is used primarily to ascertain the economic health and development of a country. It therefore measures the sum of the value of goods and services produced in the economy. However, there are many flaws with this modal. One of its limitations is ‘inequality’. A strong GDP is not necessarily a reflection of the country at large. It could be a result of just a small minority becoming richer. In addition, it is certainly not reflective of a country’s health in general. Many other components are needed to establish this. For example, in 2010 the ONS began measuring health, relationships and education alongside economic growth. The Jewish people have survived for millennia because we have constantly measured our performance against a timeless value system. It can be summed up in one word: ‘Light’. Our mission and purpose in this world is to be “a light unto the nations”. But what exactly is ‘light’, and how is it measured? Light is used as a metaphor for the soul of man, as the verse states: “The soul of man is the lamp of G-d”. (Proverbs 20:27) It is also used as an analogy for Torah in the verse: ״For the commandment is a lamp, The teaching (Torah) is a light״. (Proverbs 6:23). There is a beautiful Midrash where G-d says to man, “My lamp (my Torah) is in your hand. Your lamp (your Soul) is in my hand. If you preserve my lamp, I will preserve yours”. True value is something which provides optimal life, for the longest duration of time, to the maximum amount of people. This value is synonymous with the divine light which radiates through our souls, the “lamp of G-d”. The problem we have is that mankind also possesses selfish destructive impulses that obscure this powerful light from radiating through our entire being. This is why G-d gave us the Torah. By adhering to its values, we become more aligned with our mission and purpose, allowing the divine light within us to shine through us and beyond. There is no doubt we are living in turbulent times. Perhaps we are being sent a message to readjust the way we measure the health of our society. No longer should GDP in its current form be the ultimate measure. Perhaps we should tilt the yardstick in favour of how much ‘light’ we radiate to the world around us, through “good deeds” and “acts of kindness”. Let this be the true measure of a healthy society.




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