"Bill of Responsibilities" & Economics


The big political debate in economics is how involved the government should be in getting important things done. One school of thought (libertarian) is that government is only here to protect our rights, and shouldn’t do anything other than that. The free market and capitalism will take care of the rest. The other school of thought (progressive), is that raw capitalism is like a jungle, where the strongest wins, and the government should take the lead in big & bold initiatives, like fighting poverty, protecting our environment and ensuring public safety. Government only gets involved because capitalism failed to solve those problems.

The other side argues that government only messes things up and doesn’t solve problems. Nonprofits, fueled by the free market, can solve the same problems government tries to solve more efficiently, without infringing on the rights of it’s citizens.

The other side will argue that some problems are too big for nonprofits to solve. Look at the tremendous budgets for housing, food & healthcare programs for those who need it most. Nonprofits just can’t compete with the magnitude of the need.

And so, the debate goes back and forth. Will there ever be an end to the debate or will this debate go on forever. If one side is right and the other is wrong, why can’t everyone see the light? Does Torah have an opinion in this debate?

Perhaps, Torah’s solution is a “Bill of Responsibilities”.  A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about how America was founded on rights, and the unintended consequences of this system is that both sides of the political isle are obsessed with protecting the rights they hold dear, instead of how they can contribute.  As JFK famously said, "It's not about what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Unfortunately, I think the whole country needs a boost in this area.

Torah doesn’t speak about rights, only responsibilities. Indeed, the Torah’s most progressive policy of guaranteeing real estate to every Jew (a portion in the land of Israel) is stated as a responsibility (do not sell the land G-d gave you) instead of as a right (this land belongs to you).

Accordingly, you might argue that the Torah wants every person to have healthcare, housing and a decent wage, but it is the responsibility of the “haves” to give it, not the right of the “have nots” to receive it.

In a Torah system, there’s no need for a government to provide these services, because the rich recognize their responsibility to provide for those who need. In a Torah society, the nonprofits don’t run out of money, so the government doesn’t need to step in.

At the end of the day, I think everyone agrees that the government has succeeded in demonstrating the importance of these programs. No politician would dare advocate for doing away with the safety net programs, because everyone accepts the necessity of them, albeit with some changes here and there.

As a matter of fact, this is actually the story of Purim. The Megilla tells us that the Jews accepted what they started at Mt. Sinai. At Sinai, they started keeping the Torah, but in a certain sense they were forced into it. They witnessed G-d giving Egypt 10 plagues, splitting the sea for them, and feeding them manna in the desert. If you were given all that, and then G-d offered you a Torah, would you dare refuse?

It wasn’t until generations later, during Purim, that the Jews accepted the Torah because they wanted to. They were ready to own it themselves.

The process of Moshiach is well underway, and the world is ready for the next stage. It’s time for us to graduate from being forced into charity by a government, to accepting the “Bill of Responsibilities,” namely the Torah, and feeling personal responsibility to everything that Torah demands of us.

Speaking of which, if you know anyone who we might be able to help, please let me know.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Abrams

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