Home > D'vrei Torah > “Jim Cramer is the Golden Calf” -D’var Torah from 3-14-09; Parashat Ki-Tissa

“Jim Cramer is the Golden Calf” -D’var Torah from 3-14-09; Parashat Ki-Tissa

Here’s my dvar torah from March, 2009, Parashat Ki-Tissa.  The Jim Cramer/Jon Stewart feud that week served as a great jumping-off point for discussing the story of the Golden Calf.

Jim Cramer is the Golden Calf

This week, front page news focused on a new war that was brewing—not the war in Afghanistan or Iraq or the War on Terror or the War on Drugs but the war between Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and CNBC’s Jim Cramer. You may have heard of or seen Jim Cramer—he’s the host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” an hour-long program where Cramer prances about giving his thoughts on the market complete with flailing arms, shaky camerawork, sound effects, and general effusiveness.

Jon Stewart & Jim Cramer

Jim Cramer & Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

The proclaimed “Weeklong Feud of the Century” started last week when CNBC reporter Rick Santelli cancelled out on his planned appearance on The Daily Show—the popular news-skewering program on Comedy Central. Host Jon Stewart took that opportunity to stage a seven-minute missive against the Business Network’s false projections, softball interviews, and general Hooray for Wall Street stance, paying special attention to Jim Cramer’s daily rants. He concluded his piece with “If only I’d followed CNBC’s advice, I’d have one million dollars today—provided that I started with a hundred million dollars.”

See The Daily Show Clips here

All this week, Stewart and Cramer have been battling back and forth in the media—with Stewart ridiculing Cramer’s incorrect projections such as when Cramer recommended buying stock in Bear Stearns at $69 per share, shortly before the stock went down to $2. Cramer went on the defensive—using his program as well as the Today Show, MSNBC, the Martha Stewart show, and a bunch of radio interviews to defend himself saying that essentially he gets paid to be wrong and that Stewart is a comedian who “runs a variety show.”

On the David Letterman show last week, Stewart talked about CNBC saying that the network’s financial mis-projections is “like turning on the Weather Channel during a hurricane and having them say ‘Why am I wet? What’s happening to me?  And it’s so windy! What’s going on? I’m scared!’”

The feud continued back and forth this week in the media, culminating Thursday night when Cramer appeared as a guest on The Daily Show where the financial guru along his network was virtually eviscerated in an extended interview by Jon Stewart. It was the dizzying climax of what promoted by the network as “The Basic Cable Personality Clash Skirmish of ’09”—all to the delight of the media and the television viewing public resulting in huge ratings all around. But the best part about all of this happening this week— booyah, it fits right into our Torah portion.

What’s going on with the people of Israel? In the last few weeks they’ve been slaves, they’ve watched the Egyptians being slammed with crazy plagues. Water turning to blood, frogs jumping everywhere, hail with fire. They get a memo saying “hey, don’t forget before you go to bed on the 15th of Nisan be sure to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on your doorposts. Oh yeah, don’t forget to set your clocks ahead an hour too.” They had to pack up and leave their homes quickly—“oh wait, the bread didn’t have time to rise.” They get their first taste of matza and hey no fair their Sephardic brethren get to eat green beans and legumes. They dash out of Egypt on the run from horses and chariots until they find themselves trapped on a seashore. Hey it’s okay, Moses has his magic stick and holds it over the Sea—it splits- hey let’s dash on through. They escape to the other side until the Sea falls back as the Israelites watch the Egyptians drown in the Sea. It’s an eventful couple of weeks. The 600 some odd thousand make their way across the desert nourished by this swell new food called Manna where they get to Mount Sinai. And immediately, Moses says “okay, you guys stay here- I’m going up the mountain. I’ll be right back.” And so the people stay at the base of the mountain waiting for Moses and waiting and waiting and waiting. For forty days. They start getting antsy. They say “hey Aaron, G-d brought us out of Egypt but what’s the deal? Where is this G-d? We need something to pray to that we can see. We don’t know what’s next for us—there’s too much uncertainty. Where is our next meal coming from? How are we going to take care of our families? If only we had something concrete that we can pray too. A figurehead—something that can tell us what to do.

Nicolas Poussin - the adoration of the golden calf 1633-36

Nicolas Poussin - the adoration of the golden calf 1633-36 {public domain}

The Israelites are getting angry and getting ready to riot in the streets of sand. Moses’ brother Aaron, who is forced to deal with forty days and forty nights of being barraged with constant complaints, fears for his own life. He tries to placate the people. He says “It’s time for change. You all can make a difference. Here’s what you can do— you got any gold? Give it all here.” The people melt the gold down and form it into a big cow. They’re very proud of it- finally they have something concrete (or metallic, actually) which they can see in front of them and to which they can pray. They say “This is change we can believe in!” They make sacrifices to it, they have a big Festival—they’re happy. G-d– not so much. He tells Moses “you might want to go check on your people down there.” Moses comes down the mountain channels Charlton Heston, “Woe Unto Thee, O Israel—you have sinned a great sin in the sight of G-d,” throws down his shiny new tablets, melts the calf down into water and serves it as a beverage to the offending people.

Now very slowly, let’s try to figure out how all of this comes together into one happy dvar torah. Jim Cramer is the Golden Calf.  A Google search for “Jim Cramer” and “Golden Calf” yields 412 results. CNBC’s own promos for the network have pictures and sound bytes of Cramer while showing the words in large letters “In Cramer we Trust.” It’s on billboards all over the place too. “In Cramer We Trust.” {Look! Here’s a video clip} How about trusting G-d? We’re watching unemployment soar, 401Ks plunge, investments nosedive, personal fortunes crash, and doom and gloom reach the stratosphere and we’re supposed to put our faith in a man because he’s wearing rolled up shirt sleeves and a tie and bounces around making funny sound effects and throwing books around the set?  We get caught up in the media hysteria about the economy tanking which feeds our own fears which brings down the stock market and we complain “Oh where are our leaders? It’s time for change. Help us O great One! Maybe you can bring us to the Promised Land!”

There are three 24-hour Financial News Networks that all have to battle for ratings- the almighty advertising dollar. So it makes sense that they have to do things to be better than the competition. Flashier sets, more telegenic hosts, the fastest quotes and insights. But these networks created the media hype that made a bad economic situation worse by feeding on the public’s fears. And it seems that whenever any our elected officials appear on screen with their swell new economic plan, the little green up arrow becomes a big red down arrow.

There are plenty of Golden Calves out there in the media and the government and they are the ones who exacerbate the situation by interfering where it doesn’t belong and not letting the situation just play itself out by the market and economy’s natural self-correcting mechanisms. We’re giving our gold away and they’re melting it down and forming stimulus packages and government bailouts around which we are all supposed to dance and pray.

Thankfully, Jon Stewart, the comedian was able to cut through the mumbo jumbo on Thursday night’s interview and showed how irresponsible the media have been in this economic crisis. One blogger reviewed the interview as follows:

Stewart was on fire, on point and didn’t hit the brakes once as he steamrolled Cramer and NBC into submission, calling them out on their blatant misrepresentation of the markets which helped in pulling the wool over the general public’s eyes about what was happening in our financial markets.

“…They burned the house down with our money and walked away rich as hell,” said Stewart about Company CEOs and Wall Street.

And Stewart couldn’t be any closer to the truth. It sickens me to think that these people are crying for more of our money to bail themselves out because of their terrible business practices after draining 401k’s and taking the average American into the middle of the financial desert with an expired credit card and telling them, “Good luck.”

http://manic-frustration.blogspot.com/2009/03/stewart-winsfatality.html

As an aside, but since we’re on the subject of money and investing—what’s the safest investment you can make? And this is where I make my Dad proud (finally after almost 40 years of shame and disgrace). Israel Bonds. They’re currently paying as much as 3.5% interest and Israel has never defaulted or missed a single payment of principle or interest. And the money goes to support Israel’s infrastructure helping to build new roads and a light rail system, supporting development in the Galilee and the Negev, and enhancing exports including a huge natural gas find recently off the coast of Haifa—one of the largest deposits of natural gas that could change the face of Israel’s economy. The golden calf proved to be bit less safe of an investment, although analysts are saying under a weakening dollar there is a safe haven in precious metals. Gold is trading at record levels and copper is up 19% year to date, so maybe the Israelites felt that their investments were safe inside a giant gold cow. Remember, past performance is not indicative of future results. Always read the prospectus.

The Golden Calf didn’t work out too well for the Israelites—they lost faith in their situation and they needed something to rally behind. It made them feel better for a second, until Moses came down and showed them quite dramatically the error of their ways by not having faith in G-d. And I’m not saying to ignore the commentators and analysts because they have experience in studying the economy and often have some pretty good insights into money and investments. But I am saying that we need to be careful so that we don’t dance around the Golden Calf. Even though Jim Cramer may have a lot of insights, I for one, feel much more comfortable sticking with the phrase “In G-d we trust.” Amen.

Will Samuels

Presented at Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation, Metairie, LA, 3/14/09

(The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, leadership, or congregants of Shir Chadash. Or anyone else.)

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Categories: D'vrei Torah
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