Tag Archives: hunger

Where is God When We Need a Miracle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sovereignty of God lately. There’s always the classic question that if God is all-powerful and completely good, why does He allow pain and suffering in the world?

yom kippur katanMy traditional answer is that we live in a broken world. From a Christian point of view, the world is broken because of “original sin”. From that point on, not only was every single person born automatically with a “sin nature,” the natural tendency to do evil, but the world itself was flawed and out of synch with God’s original intent.

Further, people weren’t capable of fixing themselves, let alone Creation all by themselves. Only by coming to faith in Jesus could we as individuals be saved, and only by Christ’s second coming can the world be saved.

The Jewish point of view is a bit more nuanced, at least as I’m able to understand it. From that perspective, Adam and Havah (Eve) were created with a natural tendency to do good. They could still do evil if they chose (free will) but they naturally did good. When they chose to disobey God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, their tendencies to do good and evil were balanced within them. In other words, it was just as likely for them to choose evil as to choose good (I’m sure I’m not getting this exactly right, and I expect helpful comments will be appearing by the by).

Jews also don’t believe they don’t need an intermediary to atone for them. In ancient days, when the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple stood, once a year on Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for all Israel. There was also an offering for the atonement of the seventy nations (representing all humanity).

In modern Judaism, each individual provides for his own atonement by sincere teshuvah (repentance).

(You can read more about Judaism’s views on original sin at Jewish Virtual Library and Aish.com>)

Also, while the Messiah is expected to rise, redeem Israel, conquer all her enemies, and bring a time of peace and justice for the world, the concept of Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world,” states that each human being can repair just a small part of the world by doing good. Jews do this by performing the mitzvot (commandments), and Gentiles do this by also performing the mitzvot incumbent upon us (and we have a lot fewer commandments to perform compared to Israel).

But so what?

arguing with godGod is all-powerful and He is not bound by the laws of nature or subject to any limitations at all. If He so desired, couldn’t He fix everything right now?

I suppose He could.

We’re supposed to trust Him. We are supposed to bring all of our worries and woes to Him and accept the promise that He will take care of us.

But plenty of devout Christians and Jews die of cancer every day. Plenty of devout Christians and Jews have starved to death, have been persecuted, and you can’t tell me that of the six-million Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust, all of them were sinful and none of them were deeply devout and devoted to Hashem.

But if that’s true, how can we depend on God? Maybe He’ll arrange for someone’s cancer to go into remission and maybe He won’t. Maybe He’ll save our loved ones from suffering and death, and maybe He won’t. How can we know?

We can’t. That’s the faith part. And even when He doesn’t help, we are supposed to trust that whatever happens is for the best? It sure doesn’t feel like the best, does it?

On the other hand, maybe we’re missing the point.

Let’s take hunger and starvation as an example. According to Action Against Hunger, 1 in 8 people worldwide won’t get enough to eat today. The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. And about one million children will die this year from hunger-related causes.

Why does God allow this horrible suffering to go on, and on, and on?

If God didn’t create humanity as sentient, self-determining beings with free will, He probably wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t have to. The world would most likely work the way He designed it to work.

But He did create us and we are here and we all make choices.

We could choose to make hungry and starving people a priority and help them, or we could choose to believe other things are more important.

Oh sure, most of us don’t have the skill sets to even attempt to cure cancer or establish world peace, and most of us as individuals can’t stop world-wide hunger, but each individual can choose to feed just one hungry person.

We can donate time, food, and money to our local food bank. We can give money to charities who send food to nations experiencing a famine, we can choose to do a lot of things to help those less advantaged than ourselves.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

We can choose to do good, and even doing a little bit of good makes the world a better place. I think God expects us to do that. I think that’s why God doesn’t just transform the world into a perfect place with a miracle.

We are supposed to be the miracle. We can’t save the world, but we can help fix a small piece of it. Imagine what the world would be like if we all fixed one small piece of the world. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.

The Hungry Gentile

leket-projectThe Gemara relates that Levi had planted grain and there were no poor people to come and collect the leket. He consulted with R’ Sheishes as to what should be done and R’ Sheishes told him that if there are no poor people who will come to collect the leket he may keep it for himself. Rambam rules in accordance with this position and writes that if there are no poor people he may take the grain for himself and is not obligated to give the monetary value of the leket to the poor. Tur writes that if there are no poor people who live in the vicinity one is not obligated to leave leket in his field. Nowadays, the custom is that people do not leave the gifts for the poor in their fields since the majority of the poor people are gentile and if the gifts were left in the fields gentiles would came and take them.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Gifts to the poor”
Chullin 134

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’-Matthew 25:37-40

What a minute. We read in the commentary on the daf that the commandment for a Jewish farmer to leave an unreaped corner of his field for the poor (based on Leviticus 19:9) seems only to apply to the Jewish poor. If there are no poor Jews in the area but only poor Gentiles, the farmer is under no obligation to provide for them. Can that be right? It seems a little harsh. Are we to infer that when Jesus teaches his Jewish disciples about feeding the poor in Matthew 25 that he only means Jewish poor? That’s not the way most Christians would interpret the message and that’s not how Christian charities work in general.

I have great admiration and respect for the Jewish sages and do my best, within my limited skill set, to study their teachings, but this one is a little hard to swallow, assuming I’m reading it right. The Talmud doesn’t universally have such an uncaring attitude toward non-Jews, and quite some time ago, I recorded some of the portions of the Talmud that relate to Gentiles in the blog post, What the Talmud Says About Gentiles, Revisited. Here are a couple of comments regarding how Jews are to treat the poor among the Gentiles:

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

earthquake-aid-assistanceIn recent years, Muslim Turkey, once an ally of Israel, has become increasingly hostile toward the Jewish nation, supposedly over how Israel is “mistreating” the people in Gaza. However, after the most recent earthquake in Turkey, Israel unreservedly offered aid to Turkey and after initial refusals, Turkey accepted.

We know from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) that Jesus directed his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”, which seems to say that how we treat others is the way God will treat us. This also reflects a modern Jewish teaching.

How you treat others is how G-d treats you. How you forgive them is how He forgives you. How you see them is how He sees you.

When you show empathy for the plight of another human being, G-d takes empathy in your plight.

When others slight you and you ignore the call to vengeance that burns inside, G-d erases all memory of your failures toward Him. When you see the image of G-d in another human being, then the image of G-d becomes revealed within you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Image”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I suppose I’m in no position to disagree with the rulings of the sages, but I’m going to disagree with this one anyway. If the farmer would have left unharvested corners in his field for the poor, they are the poor, regardless if they are the Jews of his community or Gentiles living nearby. I can see that the commandment is meant to apply to the Jews primarily so that if there are Jewish poor, the remains in the field should be for them. However, even if we can’t extend the obligation to feeding poor Gentiles, assuming no Jewish poor are around, I think compassion should tell the farmer that a hungry Gentile was also created in the image of God.

Be the Change You Want to See

Feeding Hungry ChildrenYou open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thingPsalm 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”
Chullin 111

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?

HomelessIt 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.

The Panoramic Garden

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.