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Parshas Tzav - Leading by Caring

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 03/20/18

Much of the early parts of Sefer Vayikra emphasize the ability of every person to bring a Korbon according to his means.  The meal offering brought by the poor is just as welcome as the bull offering brought by the wealthy.  Indeed, the Gemara and Medrash on Vayikra says that “there will always be poor people and rich people so they may help each other.”  Judaism has caring for the poor and the warning about the dangers of wealth throughout its teachings. Mitzvos of tithing, Leket, Shikcha and Peah along with loaning without interest are cornerstones of the Torah’s economic model.  We are taught that Parnassa is one of the few keys that Hashem does not give over to any messenger.  Wealth is very much viewed as a tool as opposed to a goal unto its own.


Those values were very much a part of American culture at its inception.  Recognition of a divinely required sense of responsibility was not only part of the culture; it was codified in a multitude of States Constitutions. After World War II, this changed in a profound way.  The globe became largely divided between The Soviet Union with its satellite countries and The United States with its western European allies.   The mutual distrust and fear led to the formation of NATO and The Warsaw Pact.  The next 50 years were defined by the relationship between these two factions as The Cold War. 


The basis for this sharp and hostile divide was a battle between two dueling philosophies and economic systems.  The United States with a one hundred and fifty year tradition of Judean-Christian values together with a free market or capitalistic economic system versus an Atheistic Mandated Culture driven by an Authoritarian Socialistic economy.  The dividing lines were drawn and the alliances formed.


Shortly after The Cuban Missile Crisis, when students in public schools routinely practiced bomb shelter drills after the Pledge of Allegiance, this divide began being defined much more narrowly and differently.  Whether it was for brevity or to reflect the financial realities of the time, the standoff was shortened simply to “Capitalism versus Communism”.  A very big difference to be sure but eliminating the Judean-Christian values versus the mandated atheistic society wrought some terrible consequences of its own.  Beginning in the 1960’s and culminating in the 80’s, much of Western society became beholden to the idea that greatness and achievement was defined by financial success and financial success alone.  Indeed, “Greed is Good” was a slogan that found its way into the American vernacular during that time.


This redefining of our differences with The Warsaw Pact countries fundamentally changed American Society.  We no longer even recognized in ourselves that one of our most critical founding values was our Religious convictions and morals.  It’s no wonder that a mere few years later some of our most basic morals seemed to evaporate under a continuous assault by “progressives”.  “G-d” became a dirty word and was attacked as “unconstitutional” despite it being referenced in the Declaration of Independence and as a founding belief of every Democracy in History.  Shortly, thereafter the murder rate in the United States, the incidence of children out of wedlock and immorality in general spiked in the 1960’s as no other time in the previous 150 years.  We began educating our children that money was good and that Socialism, which prevented its acquisition, was bad, to the exclusion of everything else. 


And there it was.  From the 1980’s on, no one looked back.  We won the Cold War. The Soviet Union crumbled, largely under the weight of its failed economic system and Capitalism was hailed as the victor. 


Enter Donald Trump – The American Hero.  His accomplishments and qualifications – the successful acquisition of massive amounts of wealth.  For the first 150 years in America, the wealthy were certainly privileged and enjoyed the fruits of their labors.  But presidential candidates ran on accomplishments other than the accumulation of wealth.  Some describe the “Trump phenomena” as anti-establishment.  There is much of that for sure.  But when you speak with many of his supporters, they talk more and more about his success in business as his most critical qualification.  That would never have been even remotely possible before the Cold War. 


Vanderbilt, Astor, Carnegie, Morgan, Gould, Mellon, Harriman, Frick, Huntington, Croker, Flagler, Duke, and Hearst – the richest Americans in the 19th century, were never sought after as presidential candidates – most were not even interested in or considered lower elected office.  They were entrepreneurs and businessmen, not people to be considered for leading the free world.  Other than Nelson Rockefeller, it’s hard to find a single business mogul who was or would have been taken seriously as a candidate for higher office. 


But here we are.  There is a Russian and Jewish proverb which both read that “people generally get the government they deserve”.  We are now living in an essentially morally bankrupt society.  Our morals having been judicially and legislatively taken away from a people too removed from when it was important to know the difference.  No more prayer in school, Darwinism as the defacto law of the land, immorality redefined as choices and alternative lifestyles deserving of legal recognition.  With one exclusion.- greed and the respect for money.  Our victor from the Cold War.  The 2016 Presidential election was between a Republican whose credential is that he had made millions of dollars in business and a Democrat who had spent virtually all of her adult life lying and cheating to enrich herself at the expense of others. 


Oy.  It was and is our job to be an Ohr Lagoyim and an Ohr La’amim.  We are at least partly responsible for this failing in American society.  Are there more of us being held up as examples of morality, decency and philanthropy or too often are we being shown in handcuffs?  We are living in a time of virtual unprecedented wealth among Jews in America.  The prior times in other societies have not served us well.  We need to rededicate ourselves to being a beacon to the world of caring, compassion, honesty and integrity.  We are G-d’s people and the world needs us more than ever.


Vayikra Rabba 34:5


Gemara Taanis, 2A