Vayeitzei: The Bogeyman of Inequality

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    • Tzvi Chulsky 6 months ago

      The first thing Yaakov is reported to see as he approaches Haran (Breishit 29:2) is a well with three flocks of sheep around it doing nothing. He tells the people (ibid. 29:7) that there is still plenty of daytime left to give their sheep water and go be productive and graze them. The answer is that they can’t: there is a heavy rock on top of the well that can only be moved by a large enough collective. When everybody gets together, they can move the rock and all the sheep can get water; individuals by themselves cannot do so.
      The question this raises is: why does the collective replace the rock afterward? And one answer (approached, for example, by S.R. Hirsch and the Shadal in very different ways) is that they are afraid to cede control to individuals; that they worry that an individual may take too much for himself. That, of course, raises another question: why is that a problem? So what if one individual gets more water?
      There are two reasons to prefer their system: jealousy — the desire not to see others do better than we do — and, closely related to that, laziness — which is harder to justify when others, starting from the same place where we did, do better. (Indeed, the second motive can explain the behavior of the shepherds.) As we see in example after example in the history of the 20th century, communal ownership has a disastrous effect on productivity.
      There is no discussion in our liturgy of “fixing” inequality, or of taking away from those who have more than we do; there is only discussion of helping the poor to have more. Tomorrow morning, when we say Tehillim 146 (the first Hallelukah, right after Ashrei), and mention God giving bread to the hungry (v. 7), let us focus on the hungry, not on those who are not hungry but of whom we may be jealous.

    • Michal Leah 6 months ago

      I love the concept of “There is no discussion in our liturgy of “fixing” inequality, or of taking away from those who have more than we do; there is only discussion of helping the poor to have more.”

      This made me think that when we daven The Sh’ma, and are given the Mitzvah of “Viahavta Es Hashem Elokecha B’chol L’vovicha, Uvichol Nafshecha , Uvichol M’odecha” it is a Mitzva firstly directed at the individual , (In all your heart, your Nefesh, and your possesions).

      There is a system in which Hashem protects the efforts of those who pursue righteousness, and stores it for them to access. (Ohr Haganuz). There is a system of reward and punishment, commensurate with our efforts , intentions and actions. One can forfeit their place based on certain destructive actions. Torah provides a system of individual responsibility, respect which ultimately empowers us and is the opposite of oppression, stealing, and jealousy.

      Therefore when performing the Mitzvah of Loving Hashem, we are given the opportunity to serve Him, to love Him, “with all of your heart, all your Nefesh, and all your Possessions”, we as individuals uniquely have, no matter what stage we are in life, or how different it is for me or for another.

      Therefore using the concepts of the Mr. Chulsky’s post,  I now see  Shema, as my opportunity to firstly reassert and recognize all I am, and all I have is from My Creator, -“Hashem Echad”, as a fixing or healing of the oppression and sentiment of entitlement.

      With that clarity  there is no threat to self, which sometimes leads to jealousy and stealing . I can then take responsibility for “all” Hashem gave to me, by appreciating , discovering and using “all”-My heart, “all”- My Nefesh, “all” My “M’odee” to Love Hashem.

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