Tag Archives: succos

Falling

FallingIt does seem frightfully unfair that one man’s single transgression should consign all humanity to death. But it is equally unfair that one man’s righteousness also offers all of humanity the reward of righteousness: “the right to the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14)

From: “The Life-giving Spirit”
Parasha B’reisheet commentary
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

After man ate from the Tree of Knowledge, however, he acquired the intimate knowledge of and desire for evil. The evil inclination was no longer an external force, represented by the Serpent. It was within. Our physical flesh was now a confused mixture of good and evil. Death was introduced into the world: human flesh, separated from the spirit, was a creature of the finite, physical realm — one which must ultimately decay and die. Man would now face a much greater challenge than before. He would no longer battle a Serpent from without. He would have to battle his own sluggish yet desirous flesh within.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
The Primordial Sin, Part II
Pirkei Avos Chapter 6, Mishna 5(b)
Torah.org

This coming Saturday, we begin a completely new Torah cycle with Parasha B’reisheet and once again, we start by reading the first chapters of Genesis. Adam is coming, and I’m a little nervous. I know this may seem strange, since we are in the middle of Sukkot, a time of great joy, but it’s as if I am sitting in my sukkah, somehow looking at Creation from several moments before God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Yet in that point of suspended time, I know everything that is going to happen after God speaks these words. It’s as if God has not yet created the universe and some part of me wants to stop Him. How can He create the Earth, Adam, Eve, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, even the serpent, knowing what I know; knowing about the fall? How can He create the universe knowing about all of the pain, anguish, and suffering that is going to happen as a result?

What?

Do you doubt that God knew about what would happen once He started everything in motion? Don’t you realize that to be God, He must have known that Adam would disobey, give into temptation, and lead all of humanity down a dark and sinister road to the abyss?

God must have known, but He created us anyway. Still, waiting for next Shabbat to come is like waiting for it happen all over again, from moments before God brought all into being with His powerful Word, to forming the first man out of clay, breathing life into Him, splitting the man and making woman, placing them in the Garden, and then…and then…

I often despair at the state of the world. All I have to do is go online and start reading the news. I recently read a story on CNN about a toddler in China who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. As bad as this is, what makes the story all the more horrible is that she was hit twice by two separate vehicles and neither driver stopped. Worse, numerous pedestrians walked right past her and did nothing. Finally, a “58-year-old scavenger named Chen Xianmei” stopped and pulled her out of the street. The CNN story states that the “grainy footage of the accidents went viral on Chinese Internet within minutes of posting”, and only then did anyone express “outrage”.

According to Rabbi Rosenfeld, as a result of what Christians call “the fall”, humanity is now is a state of confusion, trying desperately to tell the difference between good and evil and to understand what we are supposed to be doing about it. The Prophet Isaiah, in warning Israel, could also have been warning us:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter. –Isaiah 5:20

God holds the worldIt seems as if everything that God tells us is evil and wrong is touted by the world around us as right, positive, and desirable. In that sense, I feel very much a stranger in a strange land, an alien among humanity, a pariah standing against everything the world says is the right thing to do and being called cruel and bigoted because of it.

That’s why I want to stop God from creating the world. Because it will just start all over again and we’ll end up right back here, facing the same day, the same problems, the same moral confusion where right and wrong are literally turned inside out.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:17-21

…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. –Hebrews 9:28

I know, I know…he’s coming, too. Jesus, I mean.

The world is broken but not beyond repair. The principle of Tikkun Olam tells us that we are junior partners with God in the act of repairing the world. Of course, we all await the Messiah to come back and bring the job to its finale, restoring us to who and what we were before the serpent entered the Garden and in fact, restoring the Garden itself. I know. We will once again walk with God as Adam did and “each man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make him afraid” (Micah 4:4).

Sukkah in the rainI just wish we didn’t have to fall in the first place, because it’s so hard to get back up.

Maybe that’s why Sukkot is happening right now. In an imperfect world, where our shelters don’t have solid walls and the roof leaks, we are like people living in a sukkah depending on God to keep us fed, warm, dry, and safe.

Adam is coming and he’s about to fall. But Jesus is coming to help pick him back up. I’m trembling in fear as it’s about to happen all over again. I’m watching, I’m waiting. I’m praying.

Having discovered all your faults, you are depressed.

Imagine you have just found a doctor with a diagnosis that explains all your afflictions over the past many years. And he’s written a prescription directing you on a sure path to good health.

Shouldn’t you jump with joy and relief?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Joyful Prognostics”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

A few months back, I wrote a three-part series on the lessons we are about to learn once more in Genesis. This might be a good time to read them again: Part I: Overcoming Evil, Part II: The Primordial Serpent, and Part III: Healing the Wounded.

What You Bring to Prayer

MinyanA man may commit a crime now and teach mathematics effortlessly an hour later. But when a man prays, all he has done in his life enters his prayer.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism
pp. 301-2

In a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”
Torah.org

What does it mean to be a person of faith? Ironically, the answer may depend on your religion. Different faith groups seem to emphasize different priorities. What we believe we must do to serve God depends on the rules we have for such an occasion. In reading Rabbi Heschel’s book God in Search of Man, I found a representation of both the Jewish and Christian viewpoint on what it is to be a servant of God.

Here is how Heschel (p. 293) sees Christianity and frankly, how many Christians see themselves.

Paul waged a passionate battle against the power of law and proclaimed instead the religion of grace. Law, he exclaimed, cannot conquer sin, nor can righteousness be attained through works of the law. A man is justified “by faith without deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

By contrast, Heschel presents Judaism thus:

It takes deeds more seriously than things. Jewish law is, in a sense, a science of deeds. Its main concern is not only how to worship Him at certain times but how to live with Him at all times. Every deed is a problem; there is a unique task at every moment. All of life at all moments is the problem and the task. (p. 292)

The claim of Judaism that religion and law are inseparable is difficult for many of us to comprehend. The difficulty may be explained by modern man’s conception of the essence of religion. To the modern mind, religion is a state of the soul, inwardness; feeling rather than obedience, faith rather than action, spiritual rather than concrete. To Judaism, religion is not a feeling for something that is, but an answer to Him who is asking us to live in a certain way. It is in its very origin a consciousness of total commitment; a realization that all of life is not only man’s but also God’s sphere of interest. (p. 293)

Heschel presents a very rigid dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity as faith lived out in deeds vs. one expressed only by internal introspection. Even prayer for a Jew is a matter, not only of what he thinks and feels, but what he does, vs. the prayer of a Christian as being a private, ephemeral pipeline between man and God, excluding anything behavioral. In fact, Heschel (p.295) paints an extremely dismal portrait of Christianity in this following example:

Thus acts of kindness, when not dictated by the sense of duty, are no better than cruelty, and compassion or regard for human happiness as such is looked upon as an ulterior motive. “I would not break my word even to save mankind!” exclaimed Fichte. His salvation and righteousness were apparently so much more important to him than the fate of all men that he would have destroyed mankind to save himself.

DaveningThe mistake in judging Christianity that Heschel makes is in judging the faultiness of some of its followers rather than the source itself. Didn’t James, the brother of the Master, write this?

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. –James 2:14-26

Of course, many Christians all but ignore this short but well-known piece of advice in favor of the creed whereby salvation is accomplished through faith alone and without works, thus depicting any good deeds as ultimately useless to an individual’s salvation.

But who said we are here simply to be saved? Yes, mankind is in trouble, we are morally bankrupt, self-driven, greedy, materialistic, and would consume our neighbor alive if there were not laws to prevent it. We need to be saved, not only from our ultimate fate at the hands of a living and just God, but from our own acts of self-destruction.

But why do Christians stop at praying for the church? Why do some Pastors limit their preaching to the salvation of the faithful when all people everywhere need not only a realization of God, but to live out a life that serves God and man? Even our secular and atheist brothers and sisters in the world surpass us in compassion sometimes.

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.

-Max Udargo
“Open Letter to that 53% Guy”
Daily Kos

You may consider Mr. Udargo’s statement to be extreme (and I’ve quoted him before), but he is expressing compassion for men and women he doesn’t even know and, through his taxes, he’s willing to pay to make sure they receive care they neither worked for nor, in some cases, ever intend to pay back. Shouldn’t a Christian have the same selfless caring for the needy, the broken, and the dying?

I think we’re supposed to, but the message has become lost. Like most of the rest of our culture, the church has become internally driven and self seeking. Perhaps the synagogue is no better in practice, but Rabbi Heschel reminds us that Judaism, and by inference Christianity, has a core set of principles that differs from how we actually choose to practice a life of faith today. Jesus said himself that we are to love both God and man (Matthew 22:37-40) and he didn’t mean just the people that we know and love.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48

If, as Rabbi Heschel says, that “when a man prays, all he has done in his life enters his prayer”, then it’s not just what we think or feel when we are attempting to draw closer to God, but what we do that defines our relationship with Him. To see a person’s true relationship with the Creator, look at how they treat people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. –1 John 4:20-21

Plain Clothes Sukkah

Plain clothes angelIsrael here below is balanced by the angels on high, of whom it says: ‘Who makest thy angels into winds’ (Psalm 104:4). For the angels in descending on earth put on themselves earthly garments, as otherwise they could not stay in this world, nor could the world endure them. Now if thus it is with the angels, how much more so must it be with the Torah – the Torah that created them, that created all the worlds and is the means by which these are sustained. Thus had the Torah not clothed herself in garments of this world, the world could not endure it. The stories of the Torah are thus only her outer garments and whoever looks upon that garment as being the Torah itself, woe to that man – such a one will have no portion in the next world. David thus said: ‘Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy Torah’ (Psalms 119:18); to wit, the things that are beneath the garment.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism (p. 267)

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. Exodus 25:1-9

If you’ve spent any time studying the book of Exodus and particularly the instructions God gives Moses for making the materials and components to be used in constructing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, you probably noticed the exquisite level of detail and craftsmanship required. In fact, it required God to endow special skills to specific people (Exodus 31:1-11) in order to accomplish all that was needed. Of the Levites, different families and clans were assigned individual tasks over building and taking down the many and various parts of the Mishkan and its contents, and carrying them from place to place across the span of the forty years of the wandering of the Children of Israel. It would have been an enormous, pain-staking undertaking to set up the Mishkan to perfect specifications each time the Israelites stopped, and to take it down and move it each time the Israelites journeyed onward.

Now compare that to how you built your sukkah a few days ago. My family has a rather modest sukkah that came in a kit. It measures a scant four feet by six feet and can hold just a few people at a time. It’s fairly easy to put the framework together and to attach the necessary straps, but the cloth that makes up the walls (with a built-in doorway and window) is rather cumbersome to manage single-handed. It attaches to the frame using Velcro which is and isn’t easy to work with. I used a makeshift crossbeam to hold up the “ceiling” and put up the string of lights with tape. It’s not the most beautiful sukkah in the world I’m sure, but I can manage to put it up by myself and, when the time comes, I’ll be able to take it down and pack it away alone.

On the other hand, it can’t possibly be anywhere as arduous a task as when Moses (according to Rabbinic interpretation) constructed the Mishkan for the first time by himself (Exodus 40).

Why am I comparing the Mishkan with my own humble sukkah? Technically, Sukkot isn’t about the Mishkan but rather, it’s about the tents the Israelites lived in during their time in the desert. We celebrate God’s provision in our lives in remembrance of how He provided everything the Children of Israel needed for their forty year trek through the Sinai. However, something Rabbi Heschel said in his aforementioned book (p. 287) made me compare the two.

Just as man is not alone in what he is, he is not alone in what he does. A mitsvah is an act which God and man have in common. We say “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mitsvot.” They obligate Him as well as us. Their fulfillment is in not valued as an act performed in spite of “the evil drive,” but as an act of communion with Him. The spirit of mitsvah is togetherness. We know, He is a partner to our act.

When I read that passage, I recalled the effort of putting up my own small sukkah and realized I really wasn’t alone in constructing it. God was there with me. Although, as a Gentile, I’m not obligated to obey the commandments associated with Sukkot, my wife and children are Jewish and as  husband and father, the responsibility to build the sukkah is mine. I also have a number of reasons to associate Jesus Christ with Sukkot as living water (John 7:37-41) and as a living sukkah.

The word was made flesh and dwelled in our midst. We have beheld his glory, like the glory of the father’s only son, great in kindness and truth. –John 1:14 (DHE Gospels)

My earlier quotes from Heschel compared the Torah we have on earth and the “heavenly Torah”. This comparison is a “cautionary tale” of how we risk greatly misunderstanding God’s Word by treating as if it were only the inspired writings of men. In Jewish mystic belief, there is a Torah that we cannot possibly access; the Torah that was used by God to speak the universe into existence, the Torah that had to be reduced and “clothed” in “commonplace garments” just to exist in the world of human beings.

Shekinah and the MishkanWhile this is midrash as much as believing that angels must somehow “transmogrify” in order to come to earth from heaven, it illustrates what I see as the relationship between one small sukkah and the Mishkan that amazingly contained God’s Shekhinah, the reduced and “humbled” essence of the Creator that can be expressed physically in our reality. I mentioned in my previous blog post that the “intent is to fill our sukkah, not only with heavenly guests, but with earthly ones as well, creating a meeting point and a joining between heaven and earth in joy and peace, in anticipation of the days of the Moshiach.”

Today, based on what I’m learning, I could say that God was my “partner” in building my sukkah, even as He “partnered” with Moses in building the Mishkan. After Moses (and God) finished building the Mishkan, something amazing happened.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. –Exodus 40:34-35

In my previous blog, I suggested that we might “bend the rules” of the Ushpizin just a bit, to include an invitation for the Master to enter the sukkah, but if God helped Moses construct the Mishkan and then inhabited it, maybe I can dare hope that after God helped me build my sukkah, some part of Him rested, not just over it, but inside of it.

Until I read Heschel, I always thought of commandments as something God gave people so that people could obey God. Now I realize that the mitzvot belong to Him and well as us and that when we obey God, we are also working with God. I hesitate to say that God is “obligated” to obey His own mitzvot, but I can accept that for our sake, He voluntarily cooperates with us to do most of the “heavy lifting”. In retrospect, this is probably absolutely necessary not only to enable us to obey Him, but for us to even have the awareness of a relationship with God.

The little sukkah sitting in my backyard is dressed in plain and commonplace garments, made out of the ordinary materials of the world. By appearances, it’s nothing special and there’s nothing about it to attract the eye (Isaiah 53:2). But as the prophet Isaiah teaches, appearances can be deceiving and what is dressed in rags on earth is adorned in shimmering gold and bright linen in heaven.

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. –Matthew 27:28-31

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. –Revelation 1:12-16

Chag Sameach Sukkot!

Addendum:

Read more about the inspiration of Sukkot at Torah.org.

And as much as I hate to get “political” here, because it’s relevant, there seems to be a Sukkot sub-theme running in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement called Occupy Judaism. Not the most joyous of news, but it’s part of the “plain clothes” world that we live in.

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.