You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing –Psalm 145:16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Once, when a poor man came to Rav Shmelke for a donation, the rebbe realized that he had nothing for him, not a penny. After a moment’s thought he recalled that his wife had an expensive piece of jewelry under her pillow. Since he was sure that his wife would be happy to give it for tzedakah he immediately rushed into the next room and brought the jewelry. As the poor man was leaving, obviously thrilled with the windfall, Rav Shmelke’s wife approached her home.
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“The Delight of Shabbos”
It is written that one should give a lot of charity on the eve of Succos. One should also invite poor guests for Yom Tov, each person according to his means.
-Sharei Teshuvah section 1
As quoted from A Guide to the Laws of Succos
Jews and Christians, as people of faith, have a tradition of helping the poor and the downtrodden. For Jews during Sukkot, it is a mitzvah, a kindness in obedience to God, to invite the poor into your sukkah to share a meal, so that the joy of one who has plenty may become the joy of one who does not.
But how far does Jewish or Christian “charity” go? I ask because the concept of money, economy, rich, and poor are very much on people’s minds and in the news media right now. The “99 percent” feel as if they have been robbed and cheated out of their fair income and earnings by the “one percent” who control most of the world’s wealth. There is ample evidence of this, at least according to a digg.com article showing information from the Congressional Budget Office. Frankly, seeing the chart in this article’s photo would make just about anyone upset.
However, there are some who believe that the problems of the so-called “99 percent” are a result of people not taking sufficient responsibility for their circumstances and their behavior. I saw a rather interesting photo originally (from my point of view) posted by Tim Davis on Facebook advocating this perspective and the person holding the sign isn’t the only one. The Daily Kos posted a photo of “the 53% guy”, a former Marine who advocates hard work and lives out his convictions, and the blog published a rebuttal to the Marine’s statements from a more liberal perspective. The Daily Kos article, written by Max Udargo, didn’t offer a link to the source of the photo, but I tracked the original source to We are the 53% thanks to FlaglerLive.com. Apparently, there are a lot of “53% guys”.
But who is right, or does it matter? More importantly, as people of faith, what do we believe and what is God’s expectations for our behavior? Let me show you two extremely different points of view. We’ll start with Udargo.
I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you. For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it.
Now let’s compare this viewpoint with one I found the Mountain Home News.
IT is NOT for the GOVERNMENT to spend our tax dollars on anything else but OUR needs in this country., and it’s right there in Article I, Section VIII,
105 million to Somalia…………..”OK ZOOK…….you’ve already ranted about that on past blogs…………..yes. I have. Now I’m gonna tell ya why it’s so important………..
It’s not just the MONEY……….to you & me, 105 million dollars would be a once in a lifetime lottery win……….to the BUREAUCRATS back there, it’s as casual as a cup of coffee……(after all, it ain’t THEIR money).
That 105 million is a CLEAR PICTURE to the THOUGHT PROCESS back there. Don’t you remember that “debt ceiling fiasco?”……wasn’t all that long ago…….My God, the world was coming to an END…….grandma was going have her medicine taken away, our kids were gonna have to eat worms and die, the nation was about to collapse, all the Social Security and pension checks were gonna stop, everything was gonna come to a screeching halt (except the food stamps, free medical & education for illegals)——–REMEMBER THAT?
This USED to be America, and without your help, it CAN be again. This is NOT the World Welfare Office.
Remember that I said I was going to post extreme viewpoints. I don’t happen to agree with either one.
Mr. Udargo wants to live in a country where free healthcare is provided at the same level for a person regardless of income, lifestyle, and motivation. From his point of view, healthcare services should be identical, regardless of whether you work and earn an income or if you choose not to work and prefer to be unemployed or even choose to habitually abuse drugs. As far as I can tell from reading Mr. Udargo’s article, what a person does shouldn’t matter, only that he or she is a human being. On the other hand, what’s the point of working and working hard to make sure your family’s needs are taken care of if someone is just going to give “free” healthcare to you anyway and let someone else pay for it?
The Mountain Home News blog (certainly a very minor media outlet), holds the opposite point of view and believes that taxpayer money is completely wasted on providing assistance to those the Federal Government deems needy. His rant (I can’t think of a more appropriate word for it) is even more extreme than the position taken by author/philosopher Ayn Rand in her book (which I recently read) Atlas Shrugged, which also advocates self-responsibility and receiving only the benefits that you have earned by your personal efforts. From Rand’s point of view, choosing to be charitable is one thing, but being forced to be charitable by the Government, especially to the point of self-extinction, is virtually a crime.
But in its extreme form, isn’t a type of self-extinction what Mr. Udargo is advocating? Like so many who espouse an economically liberal point of view, they fail to take into consideration the cost. If you impose the level of taxes necessary to provide free and good healthcare to literally every American citizen across the board, including and especially those who refuse to work (as opposed to those who are out of work due to circumstances and who would do anything to find and keep employment), what amount of income would those of us who have work now get to keep from our labors? Right now, economically liberal people believe it is the corporations that are keeping them “poor” (and if we’re talking about 99% of the American population, most of them aren’t destitute and starving), but we all voluntarily purchase most of the goods and services provided by said-corporations. We could inhibit their exorbitant incomes dramatically just by refusing to buy their stuff. On the other hand, it is illegal to refuse to pay our taxes, even though we don’t have a great deal of control about how that tax money is spent.
In ancient Israel; Biblical Israel, when a person couldn’t pay their debts, they sold themselves into slavery. This was really more indentured servanthood and the person would only be a slave for seven years (Exodus 21:1-11). At the end of that time, if the slave chose to leave, the master was supposed to give the slave enough money to basically set him up in his own business so he could provide for himself. This is what I call the “ancient Israeli welfare system”. At no time did a person simply sit back and receive an income for doing nothing.
On the other hand, we have Acts 4:32-35 which states:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Probably the most extreme example of giving in the New Testament was taught by Jesus himself:
Yeshua (Jesus) sat facing the treasury box. He was watching the people placing ma’ot (small silver coins) into the treasury box, and many rich people gave much. A poor widow came and gave two prutot (small copper coins), a quarter of an issar (large copper coin). He called to his disciples and said to them,
Amen, I say to you that this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury box. For all of them gave of their surplus, but she, out of her lack, has given all that she had – her entire living! –Mark 12:41-44 (DHE Gospels)
So what are we to believe and what are we to do? Should we become angry at our lot in life, blame the corporations and their CEOs for what we don’t have in luxuries and for some of us, even necessities, and start protesting. Should we instead pick up signs and march on our local and national government offices and blame them for the same things? Who is at fault for the state of our nation and for the state of the poor?
Does it matter? I suppose in terms of God’s justice, any injustice matters, but what are we to do about it? Should we ignore the poor or help them? Should we only give to those who are out of work and seeking to regain employment, or should we also be giving to anyone, regardless of their circumstances and the choices they are making?
It seems to come down to a matter of choice, and I think that’s what the Bible is trying to tell us. Jesus paid his taxes willingly (Mark 12:17) regardless of how Rome was going to make use to that income. His disciples did sell all that they had and gave the proceeds to the poor among them. Even the poor widow chose to give her entire income to the treasury box. No one made these people (with the exception of the Roman tax) give away their money. They made a conscious decision to do so. It’s not wrong to feed a starving child. It’s not wrong to give to organizations who provide medical care for the needy. It’s not even wrong to give away literally everything you own so that the poor will have something to eat for a day or two (even though, in the process, you make yourself one of the poor).
But you don’t have to. More accurately, you are not compelled to give away literally everything you own for the sake of another. If it is part of your values system to do so, then you can do so. If Max Udargo wants to surrender his entire income, all of his savings, everything he’s got, in order to provide healthcare for even one person, regardless if they choose to work or not, he is completely free to do so. But he shouldn’t be made to do so. If the writer of the Mountain Home News blog doesn’t want to surrender his income for the benefit of others, he shouldn’t be made to do so. It’s not charity if it has to be forced or if the consequence of not giving is to go to jail (such as for income tax evasion).
I can’t tell you that corporate greed isn’t a problem or that adjustments shouldn’t be made in the system, but I’m not going to tell you that those who have worked, and worked hard for their incomes should be deprived of them for the sake of people who choose not to take advantage of the opportunity to work. I can tell you that you can look at who God is and how He has taught us mercy and compassion and you can act accordingly. You can give but it is your choice based on the values you hold dear as a person of faith.
While there is plenty of injustice in the world, including the injustice that is evident in the realms of private business and public politics, we can either be angry or we can look around, see a need, and fill it. I know that won’t solve all the world’s problems and make people be more just, but we can be just by contributing to making the world a little bit better. We don’t have to do this by surrendering our entire income to impoverished drug addicts. We don’t have to do this by quitting our jobs and moving to another country to work with starving children (although we can certainly choose to do those things). We can do this by living out each day, being responsible for our lives, our behavior, and providing for ourselves and our families, and also by opening our hand and providing for someone else who truly needs our help, within the limits of our compassion and our ability. But if you have picked up a sign and protested against corporations but haven’t given even a dollar to the homeless or one can of soup to the food bank, then your values and your priorities are in need of examination.
It’s a broken world and we can’t fix it all by ourselves. However, we can be one part of the solution. We can be a partner with God to help, even a little bit, and if everyone did that, perhaps there would be fewer people who are poor and hungry. You can be the change you want to see in the world. You can choose to be the answer to someone’s prayer.