(This is the fourth in a series of articles presenting an ancient Jewish view on the role of modern government.)
As a child, I hated going to the doctor for vaccinations. No one could convince me (or any other kid) that that anything so painful was a good idea. Adolescence then brought with it the ability to see the larger picture:; children should be inoculated, - even though if it hurts.
When it comes to the need to curb or eliminate entitlements, most of the U.S. seemingly sees the matter the same way a child understands his vaccines. The policy will hurt. iIt will create great hardship for the millions of people who now depend on government largesse. At the expense of reason, financial prudence cannot possibly be good.
This reaction is appallingly immature and oblivious to the larger picture.
The U.S. is now deeply and almost hopelessly in debt. The cost of its entitlements continues growing to grow exponentially. For the past three years alone, the U.S. Government has had to borrow roughly 40 cents of every dollar it spends.
It owes $16 trillion, and because it continues accruing at “40 cents on a dollar” deficit, it is unable to pay down even one penny of its rapidly mounting debt. And as if that wasn’t enough, the fabulously expensive Obamacare program is now about to kick in.
The U.S. must opt for one of two choices.
In order to help the needy, it can continue borrowing irresponsibly and sacking its remaining wealth, thereby completing the destruction of the U.S. economy and currency. Most income, savings and retirement accounts will be wiped out. Work opportunities will become so scarce that a person selling apples on a street corner will be seen as a man with a job. Here too, the only question is when exactly it will happen. It is hard to imagine any other instance of “helping the needy” that will inflict so much cruelty upon so many people – including the needy themselves.
Here too, the only question is when exactly it will happen.
Or, the U.S. can sharply curtail its entitlements, (and other spending,) and stop interfering with U.S. business and manufacturing. This way, at least most of the country will survive economically.
Which of these two approaches is the proper one? I think that, as in the case of the vaccines, after turning 12, anyone reasonable will know the answer.
The latter choice is clearly both kinder and wiser.
To illustrate this precept, theThe Talmud (the basic work of ancient Jewish wisdom) discusses the following hypothetical case:
Two people were traversing an arid desert, and one of them had a flask with just enough water to enable him to reach civilization and survive. If, however, he shared he water, both would die of thirst. One scholar taught that the man cannot stand by doing nothing as the other one is expiring. He must therefore share some of his water and temporarily save the other traveler, even though as a result, both will eventually die.
A second and greater scholar then came and pointed out that the Bible writes, “And your brother should live with you” (Leviticus 25:36). The words “with you” indicate a hierarchy. First, one must secure his own life. Afterward, he must allow his brother to live with him. The second scholar therefore taught, “your life is first.” The man should NOT share his water. This way, at least he will live. It is, after all, his water.
This text speaks to the situation now being faced by the U.S. A component of the liberal view on this topic echoes the thinking of the first scholar, while the conservative (or Tea Party) approach reflects the second.
The first liberal group exclaims, “we must continue helping the indigent, come what may.”
The conservatives respond, “we cannot charitably share the little money we have left. Stop the crazy spending right now or else the economy will crash, and we will all need handouts to survive.”
The Talmud accepted the second position and determined that the water should not be shared. It is not that it disregarded the plight of the other traveler who will die of thirst. Rather, it inferred from the Bible that the truly moral approach is for the owner of the water to keep what is his so that at least he will survive.
The U.S. must choose to either maintain its suicidal spending or adopt a fiscally responsible economic policy that slashes entitlement spending and scraps Obamacare. If the second option is chosen, the U.S. will be able to survive financially.
What the second scholar taught 1,900 years ago addresses this 2013 question. Our country’s survival must be the primary consideration.
[Writers note: The above should not be taken as an indication that the Talmud is in any way opposed to kindness. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Talmud is replete with encouragement and praise for those who pursue the various manifestations of kindness – expressing empathy to those who are suffering, physically or emotionally, doing favors, giving charity to the poor, greeting all people happily, hospitality, lending money, visiting the sick, visiting mourners, and so forth.
However, the kindness lauded by the Talmud takes place when people generously donate their efforts and money, voluntarily and out of the goodness of their hearts. However, the Talmud never extolled politicians who pass laws that seize money from some citizens, distribute it to other citizens (and illegal immigrants), and cruelly drive the country toward bankruptcy in the process. The kindness lauded by the Talmud takes place when people generously donate their efforts and money, voluntarily and out of the goodness of their hearts.]
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