THANKSGIVING

If you think about it, it's a marvel that we live in a country with so many abjectly poor people, particularly children. Recently I spoke with a man, Terrence Wise, who'll be speaking at Beth Torah on November 25th (the day after we give thanks for all we have), who works 2 jobs, with a fiancee who works full time, and yet they cannot afford to suffiently feed their 3 children. The adults sometimes choose to forgo dinner so that the children may eat. Three years ago they lost their home to bank foreclosure. This with 3 full time jobs between them, the problem being that he makes $8.00 an hour and she $10.00. He's been working 20 years in fast food; she works to help people survive in their homes. Imagine, with so much abundance surrounding us, with all my friends and neighbors carrying elaborate computers in their pockets and speaking to every part of the world anytime they desire, our society has not figured out how to make sure children's bellies are full sometime after the sun goes down. I know: there are people who cheat the system. There are also well-to-do people who cheat the system, who lie and steal (one lady was sentenced yesterday to a suspended sentence of a year who stole $120,000), but you don't hear people reacting by demanding an abolition of corrupt capitalism. Often they are not even punished. Who has gone to jail for collapsing the housing market? But in our society, being poor is in and of itself a punishment. A prosperous man, meaning not wealthy but very well educated, said to me recently that often wealthy people who spoke to him assumed he was less intelligent than they because he isn't rich. Since they associate brains with the accumulation of capital, and they are rich and he is not, he must not be as smart as they. We have devised an economic system in which some people, Warren Buffett for example, have a capacity that far exceeds others to read a balance sheet, and they accumulate great wealth if they apply their minds to it. Similarly, there are among us those with a natural eye-hand coordination to smack a leather bound ball with a long piece of wood, and for that they are handsomely compensated. But others are not so naturally endowed, and our society needs them as well. They make beds in hotels or homes, feed us in restaurants and fast food chains, garden our lawns and clean up our parents' bottoms in nursing homes. Yet, though we find their work necessary, we rely on market forces to determine their compensation. You'd think, in a society that claims religiosity like ours, that the biblical command that "there be no poor among you," (Dt. 15:4) would command strict adherence, say, like the command to admire God through prayer, even in public places, or the desire to decorate trees annually and give gifts to family on the anniversary of a birth. But nay, our love of God demands of many simply personal adoration and the promise of forgiveness of their sins -- which surely they commit daily against the poor and therefore are in need of constant forgiveness. It goes against our grain to inconvenience ourselves too greatly, or to significantly diminish our net hoarding of goods, if we can judge the "other" to be undeserving. But God, at least the biblical deity I read, makes no such distinctions. God simply speaks of the poor. He doesn't say, "Those who are diagnosed bipolar," or "those who are disabled physically," or "those who were denied an education or an education that fit an occupation." The God I worship simply says that we should feed the poor, indiscriminately, just like that, without judgment on how they arrived at their sorry state. See, it appears God does have a heart after all. But do those with a physical heart possess a spiritual heart, or is the heart just hardened? Those of us with funds in the bank have had the good fortune to be like those sports heroes we so adore: we were born and worked hard on a talent that we developed, but in a system that rewarded that talent. The maid in my childhood friend's home who was, frankly, denied by God sufficient intelligence to do anything more than clean a house and make a bed, neither had the talent nor the opportunity to develop. But God recognized in her the image of the divine. Why don't we? No one should have to justify the need to eat daily, or need a toilet, or have access to clean water. Yet, in this most pietistic of Western nations, we demand that the poor justify the reason to share our food. Think about it. Perhaps capitalism is not God given. Perhaps it's just another flawed economic system that requires a heart to be moral. Since only human beings have a heart, I guess the poor must rely on us, God help them.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.