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Health Insurance and Torah

Parashat Kedoshim: You Shall Be Holy

This week's parashah, containing Leviticus 19, presents the heart of the Torah (see Tanya chapter 32 -- 32 being gematria for Lev, the Hebrew for heart) Hillel taught when asked to teach all of the Torah while standing on one foot, "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. All the rest is commentary. Go, learn."

Lev. 19:2 commands that we be holy, and vs. 18 concludes with the Golden Rule. In between we find that we must not harvest to the edges of our fields, nor pick up gleanings, nor harvest the corners of the fields, nor harvest fallen fruit. These are from property you own, but are to be left for those who have nothing.

Who are these poor? In every society there are those who for one reason or another cannot support themselves. The Bible commands, as a matter of holiness, that they receive the basic necessities of life. This is neither socialism nor communism, neither equal distribution of the products of labor nor "from everyone according to his ability to everyone according to his need." No, this is simply fundamental to ethics, the recognition of the self in the other.

We cannot allow others to suffer and die just because they lack the means to support themselves. Which coincidentally, is actually what the U.S. House of Representatives voted to do yesterday by giving a major tax cut to the wealthiest among us while depriving the poor of affordable health care.

We are the most pietistic and the least pious of all the world's democracies. We are hypocrites of the first order for proclaiming ourselves religious while contradicting the most basic of religious commitments.

Of course, in order to achieve this our politicians are now required to prevaricate and eviscerate the truth. Thus Kevin Yoder proclaimed today that it's a lie to say that pre-existing conditions are not going to be covered. But he neglected to say that they will now be covered at at least twice the price, causing something like 14 million poor to lose their insurance. To price a product at an unaffordable level is to tease, like an adult holding a cookie just out of a child's reach and continually moving it farther away as the child gets closer. Today this is termed abuse.

Unbridled capitalism and individualism allow for the myth that we are not interdependent. But the truth is that we are colonies of people who depend on one another. We live all of our lives intertwined with humans who provide our basics. But only some benefit from the financial rewards. Yet, the Torah tells us that we must recognize the image of God in the other, and provide for that life to survive as a human being, not just at the most basic animal level. At this most basic level it is not capitalism, determining the market value of labor, but basic humanity that must be our guide to enable others to achieve the dignity of holiness.

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