Saturday, February 16, 2013

Without Charity

Maimonides taught that out of seven levels of charity, the highest level is teaching a person a profession, so that he or she will never have to depend on charity again.  My teacher, Arnold Jacob Wolf, used to say that there was an eighth, higher level: creating a society where no one has to depend on charity.  (As Rabbenu Karl Marx wrote, "From each according to his [sic] abilities, to each according to his needs."

I want to follow Rabbi Wolf's example by taking another inspiring thought and expanding it from the individual to the social.  Here it is:

Last week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, includes rules and instructions on how to act with integrity in business.  This week's portion, T'rumah, is all about building the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried around for forty years in the desert.  The editor of Etz Hayim comments, " teaches that only after we make our living honestly can we give any proceeds to charity."

This is an inspiring thought, but let's take it social. 
  • Let's provide full employment, then give to charity.
  • Let's guarantee a living wage, then give to charity.
  • Let's make sure that the gap between women's incomes and men's disappears, then give to charity.
  • Let's make sure there's affordable child care, health care, housing, college education, continuing education, food, and heat, plus paid sick days and parental leave, plus a guaranteed comfortable retirement for anyone who works, plus support for anyone whose disability prevents them from working for pay...and then, and only then, give to charity.
If we do all this, then (as Rabbi Wolf suggested) we may have a society where no individual has to depend on charity. Let's start today!

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