I don’t know why the avocado industry has not been able to create the National Avocado Day yet. I know that September 14th is the National Guacamole Day and November 14th is National Spicy Guacamole Day, but there is still no day celebrating avocados in their simple unguacamoled glory.
According to some reports, avocados reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, help maintain a healthy waistline, and can help protect your eyes and skin well into old age. In addition to that, avocados are just plain delicious; velvety, soft, creamy, and bursting with earthy flavors. So today, we celebrate avocados by bringing you the Jewish perspective on a recent news item that deals with avocado. It comes to us from Australia, and we’ll call it: Never Get Between a Millennial and His Avocado Toast
Tim Gurner, is an Australian real estate developer who recently was named 2016 Ernst and Young’s Emerging Australian Entrepreneur of the Year after amassing a net worth of $460MM before the age of thirty-five. When he recently appeared on the Australian version of 60 Minutes, he was asked about the problems millennials are facing in buying homes. His response was “’When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each. The expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day, they want travel to Europe every year. The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it. They saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder.”
Before we get to the reaction to what he said, let’s first talk avocado. The smashed avocado he was referring to is the primary ingredient in avocado toast, a dish that is enormously popular among young people today. I’m fortunate to have had an avocado toast once; seven grain bread, a medley of grilled vegetables, half an avocado sliced generously, and topped with crumbled goat cheese. I understand why it’s so popular; it’s healthy, nutritious, fresh, and oooh so gooood! And while a $19 avocado toast is definitely on the pricey side, a $10-12 avocado toast is quite within the range of normal prices. And now to the reaction.
To put it mildly, Tim Gurner’s interview did not go over well with millennials. The Twitterverse and Blogosphere erupted with indignation. Twitter posts included these gems:
- I was gonna put a down payment on a house last year, but then I spent $44,000 on avocado toast.
- Yesterday I had to make a big decision. Buy an avocado for toast today… or not buy an avocado every day for 448 years to afford a house.
- Barista: would you like anything else with that? Me: No thanks. Was gonna get avocado toast, but I’m trying to buy a house this year.
- I spent all my avocado money paying rent on my apartment, or maybe for a bus pass. I’m a bad millennial.
- Skyped friend in New Zealand. Her Sunday consisted of smashed avo for brunch then house hunting. Didn’t have the heart to break the bad news to her..
The New York Times and CNBC even jumped in, talking about how millennials on average spend $3097 dining out each year, only $305 more than people ages 55-64. They also spend on average $4,832 per year on vacations which is slightly lower than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. See! Millennials are actually the most frugal of vacationers and eater-outers! Like I said, do not get in between a millennial and his avocado toast.
Wait a second, I just pulled out my handy dandy calculator and did some arithmetic. If I’m not mistaken, the New York Times article describing why Tim Gurner’s claim is so absurd, just told us that millennials spend on average $7,929 per year on vacations and eating out, both of which are luxuries, not necessities. And Deloitte tells us that the average millennial in 2015 spent $750 on media, including Netflix, movies, video games, and music. Furthermore, Deloitte reported that the average millennial spends $3,000 a year on tech hardware such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and headphones as well as on data connectivity. Add those numbers to the picture and we’re looking at close to $12,000 spent per year by millennials on non-necessities.
Maybe Tim Gurner did have a point? I’m not saying people should have no fun or luxury in their lives, but cutting their luxury spending by 75% would save them about $9,000 a year, and in nine years they would have the $63,000 for a 20% down payment on the average house price in the US ($315,000).
Another important question not being discussed is the value of our time. The first property that Tim Gurner ever worked on was a partnership between him and his boss when he was eighteen. His boss forked over $180,000 to buy an apartment in Melbourne, and Tim spent weeks renovating the apartment himself at night. On his knees sanding and varnishing the floor. Painting the walls. Replacing fixtures and changing out cabinetry. When they sold the apartment, he made $12,000. His grandfather noticed his industriousness and lent him $34,000 as an investment in his next project, a bankrupt gym that he bought after borrowing an additional $150,000. He spent months renovating that as well, then over eighteen months built it into a profitable business that he sold to a competitor. Throughout this time, he was working at multiple jobs seven days a week. That is how Tim Gurner spent his time.
According to a Nielsen report on January 25, 2017, the average millennial spends 27 hours a week consuming media. If you’re awake for 18 hours a day, 27 hours is a day and half. Again, leaving 9 hours a week of media consumption for fun, there is still an entire day that millennials can use building wealth or developing skills that is being given over to media consumption. And when the University of Chicago publishes a report saying that 22% of men ages 21-30 with less than a bachelor’s degree did not work at all last year, might we say that there might be some merit in calling out to millennials to develop a stronger work ethic?
I don’t want to sit here and bash millennials, it is a fault that belongs to society as large as well. Generation X’ers average 32 hours a week of media consumption (almost two days worth of waking hours!) and people above fifty spend about twenty. We live in a time of profligate spending, and much of it on luxury items. Last year, Starbucks had revenues of $21.3 Billion, North Face had revenues of $12 Billion, $99.6 Billion was spent on video games, Apple had revenues of $215 Billion, and that is not all coming from millennials. As a society, many luxuries have become necessities, and the least of them is avocado toast.
What is the Jewish perspective on this? In Judaism, we have mitzvahs and we have middos, commandments and character. While the mitzvahs are relatively black and white; no pork, no work on Shabbos, no murder, etc, the middos are a lot more fluid and hard to pin down, because character development is entirely different for each individual. But there is a list of the 13 core middos, compiled by Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin, also known as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1809-1883), the father of the Mussar Movement, a drive toward self-development and refinement. Those character traits can be found in Mekor Baruch, a work written by Rabbi Baruch Epstein, the author of the famed Torah commentary, Torah Temima. Two of them are instructive in this conversation.
Zerizus – while generally translated as alacrity, in the 13 Middos, this is defined as, “Never waste a single moment; do what has to be done.” Time is our most valuable resource, we cannot buy more time with all the money in the world. The time we were gifted was given to us for the purpose of pursuing greatness, and we should use every bit of it to bring value into our life. We obviously need some time to decompress, otherwise we would explode, but even our relaxation should be intentional; I’m going to read a book for a half hour now because I need to relax after a particularly stressful day. I’m going to play chess for a few minutes so that I can zone into the game and zone out of all the other chaos in my life.
But we don’t need to give over one and half days a week to decompression, (as a matter of fact studies link too much social media consumption to depression). We can learn new skills, learn Torah to develop our spiritual side, and spend time helping others (studies show that kindness helps alleviate depression). Using our time wisely shows that we believe in ourselves, and we are investing in ourselves.
Thrift – This is defined as “do not spend even a penny unnecessarily.” Money is also an incredible gift, it gives us so many options. Wasting it on non-essentials takes away all those options. We can use our money to save up for a nice house, a strong retirement account, or to give charity, but when we use it for something we don’t really need, we lose all those possibilities.
This is not a midda that is easy to attain, and we can spend a lifetime developing this character trait, but just embarking on a mission of attaining the character of Thrift is an incredible accomplishment. It may mean less avocado toast (or making them at home for $1.85 instead of buying them for $12), but it also means that we can see the value of our good choices grow in front of us, giving us deep long lasting satisfaction.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This weeks Parsha starts off with the mitzvah of Shmita, the commandment to leave the land fallow every seventh year. The Torah uses an interesting noun to describe the shmita year, one that begs a question. “When you come into the Land that I will give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for G-D (Leviticus 25:2)” But why is the seventh year, the year we leave our fields fallow, called Shabbos? Isn’t that the name we have for our day of rest, the holiest day of the week? In order to answer that question let us look a little closer at shmita and, hopefully, from there we will be able to find an answer (O.K. I don’t want you guys to be in too much suspense, we will find an answer in the end, not just hopefully!)
The primary reason for Shmita, a mitzvah which tells us to leave our fields untouched every 7th year, is that we should recognize Who gave us our land in the first place, and then show appreciation to Him. If I give you a brand new Ferrari (a F-430 with a 4.3 liter V-8, 483 HP, 343 lbs. of torque, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds to be exact) and tell you to drive it every day but Tuesday, you would be delighted (if not, just give it back to me, I’ll be delighted). As you would get used to the car, though, you would start to forget who gave it to you and start to view it as your own car. (Ask any parent with a teenage driver in the house, I’m sure they will agree.)
But on Tuesday, when suddenly you couldn’t drive it like you normally did, you would be forced to stop and remember hey, wait a second, why am I not driving today? Oh right! Because R’ Burnham gave me the car and he said don’t drive it on Tuesday! This would give you the ability to appreciate what I gave you, because it forces you to step back, and remember that the car was a gift from me. (For those who come to Partners In Torah religiously on Tuesday night, I may just decide to actually give one away, and you guys would be my top candidates, so keep up the good work, and stay tuned!) This is one of the reasons for Shmita. It is a mitzvah that enables us to appreciate G-d for all the good He has done. When we step back from using the land for one year, we focus on He who gave us the land in the first place, and are grateful for it.
One of the reasons we are commanded to keep Shabbos stems from this same line of reasoning. On Shabbos we are not forbidden to do all work. Technically, I could push my heavy table up and down my dining room floor all Shabbos afternoon. It might be hard work, but it is not forbidden. On the other hand, turning the key in the ignition of my Ferrari (oops, I’m already starting to think that I actually have one) is forbidden even though it requires minimal effort. The work that is forbidden on Shabbos is creative work such as creating a fire by turning on the ignition.
The reason only creative work is forbidden, is based upon the fact that G-d gave humans, and only humans, certain creative abilities. I have never seen a monkey, even a very intelligent one, write a book, nor have I ever seen a mouse making itself a pair of boots. We, the homo sapiens, were given an incredible gift from G-d called creative ability (that is what it means when it says G-d created us in His image. Obviously, He has no form. Rather we are in his image in that we, like him, can create.)
Once a week, G-d asks us to hold back from using this most precious gift, our creative abilities. When we are suddenly not using our gift, we can focus on reigniting our gratitude that which we had gotten so used to throughout the week, and we can be grateful to G-d for giving it to us. This, of course, explains why shmita is described as a Shabbos for the land. Both these mitzvahs provide us with the opportunity to stop using that which we normally use, in order to recognize Who gave it to us and how much we should be thankful to Him!
The first of the two parshios we read this week, Behar, begins with the laws of shmita. This mitzvah commands us to leave the land fallow every seventh year. One may not work the land at all, and anything that grows on its own in the field is left to be taken by anyone who needs it. (If you had to be poor for a year, this would be a good one to pick.) After seven shmita cycles there is a Jubilee year on the 50th year, and the land lies fallow once again. In addition, many fields and homes revert back to their original owners. Jewish servants, who requested to stay with their masters past the normal limits, are now sent home. Thus, when buying a field one had to always take into account how many years remained until the Jubilee because that is the amount of time he would own the field. (As Jews, we sometimes have strings attached to our deals, but at least it was known to everyone, not some fine print clause written in Azerbijanian!)
The next part of the Parsha deals with redeeming the land. The idea is as follows; G-d gave each person a portion of the Holy Land, which they bequeathed to their families. There could be no greater family treasure than the family’s share in G-d’s land! (Timeshare salesmen try to get you to feel this way about their “week in paradise for your family every year forever!”) Therefore, if someone sold his land, it was probably out of great necessity, and the Torah gives the person a chance to buy it back if they, or a relative, can come up with the money. Depending on what type of property it was and where it was situated, the times at which one can redeem it are different, for more details see Leviticus 25:23-34.
The last part of the Parsha deals with Jewish servants. I know that we who live in a post- Emancipation Proclamation world look unfavorably on labor provided by servants or slaves (although who do you think made your shirt?), so I will try to show you that a Jewish servant was the farthest thing from the Atlantic slave trade of the 1500-1700’s. The sages say, “He who buys himself a servant, has acquired a master for himself.” A Jewish master was responsible for supporting his servant’s entire family, he couldn’t force him to do demeaning labor, if there was only one pillow or blanket in the house it had to be given to the servant, and when the servant would leave, the master was required to give him a hefty severance package. (All these benefits and no union dues to pay??? Sounds impossible, but with Torah it’s all possible!).
A Jewish servant would sell himself if he needed funds and couldn’t find any other job, or if he simply wanted the security of servitude (a job in which his whole family was supported and he couldn’t get fired, downsized, discharged, restructured, laid off, terminated or forced to resign!) The Parsha concludes with a reiteration of the mitzvos of keeping Shabbos and not serving idols. This was to remind any Jew who sold himself to a non-Jew, that he still had to keep his Jewish practice and couldn’t start desecrating Shabbos or serving his new master’s idols.
The 2nd Parsha we read is the last one in Leviticus, Bechukosai. The major theme of this parsha is the concept that the deeds we do have a direct result on our world. The world is like a finely tuned violin, and our actions like a bow being stretched across the strings. If we play it properly, the most beautiful and harmonious sounds emanate. However, if we play it improperly, the result is jarring and disturbing. It is not so much a punishment as a cause-and-effect relationship with our actions.
In line with that idea, the parsha starts off by saying that if we follow G-d’s Torah properly then our land will produce incredible yields, we will live in peace, (and the Pistons will win the Finals). However, if we refuse to follow G-d’s Torah and instead chose to ignore the role He plays in our world, then He will remove Himself from the picture, and the world will begin to crumble around us. Throughout this difficult period, G-d will wait for us to turn back to Him. If we continue to deny His reality, the devastation will become more and more severe. Ultimately, G-d promises that even during the most trying times our people will endure, He will not totally abandon us, rather He will be with us in our exile. In the end we will return to Him, He will remember the covenant He has with our Fathers and bring us back to our land in peace.
The Parsha then moves on to the subject of different items one can consecrate to the Temple, such as property, one’s own value, or his animals. The Torah discusses how a person pays for each, and if and when one can redeem them back for himself. The final verses of Leviticus deal with the second tithe a person gives on his crops, and the tithe on animals.
As we say in Shul (synagogue), when completing one of the Five Books of the Chumash: Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!!!
Quote of the Week: Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. ~ A. Gambiner
Random Fact of the Week: Abraham Lincoln faces to the right on the penny while all the other presidents face to the left on US coins.
Funny Quip of the Week: It’s OK to let your mind go blank, but please turn off the sound.
Have a Piquant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham