Tuesday, May 5, 2009

For the Common Good

This past week, the Torah portion was Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. There are so many things in this parasha that promote the common good and general welfare of all. In it are various mitzvah such as:

Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Hillel, a very famous Sage, addressed it this way:

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

I sort of gave the punch line to this parasha, for if we are to love our neighbor as our self, how do we go about it?

One of the most striking instructions for me is this:

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest.

And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your G-d.

Not only are we to help provide for the stranger and the poor, but the above implies that we must do it in such a way as not to cause embarrassment to those in need. This brought to mind the EBT cards that have now replaced food stamps. Not only are we in the United States, through our government leaving the corners of the field for the stranger, we are also doing in it a way that will not cause embarrassment. Some may argue that it shouldn't the function of the government to provide such things as food stamps, housing, and medical care to those who can't afford it. I feel that in addition to our various donations to various charities and causes, taxes can and should be used for social programs tho help those in need. I've written before that the label given to these programs of Entitlements should be changed to Investments.

Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour, nor rob him; the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

This verse reminds of two things: The Civil Rights Movement and the rise of labor unions. Even after the Civil War, blacks were still oppressed. It took the bravery of blacks in places like Selma Alabama who were joined hand-in-hand with a few whites to break the injustice and cruelty of the inherent racism so prevalent in the South.

At the turn of the last century, the conditions American in which workers lived and worked were atrocious. The labor unions helped to rectify this injustice.

Blacks and workers both faced, beatings, false imprisonment, and death by those who wished to keep their neighbors oppressed. It took a strong central government and justice system to lift the oppression.

There is one other section from this parasha:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

In short, justice should be blind. Justice should not favor the poor and it should not show deference to the rich. It should be an equal playing field for the lowest beggar to the richest person. The United States provides an attorney to those who cannot afford it. It tries its best to ensure that justice is blind.

A lot of the programs that the United States has in place is for the common good of the nation as well as the general welfare. For a long time, some of these programs have been considered Socialistic and/or Communistic. Some feel that the Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act are in violation of our Constitution. I feel their are an affirmation of the notion that "all men are created equal".

Some argue that it isn't the place of our government to provide these social programs and that those in need should rely on themselves, family, churches, etc. Again, I feel that all of the social programs provide for the common good and general welfare of all Americans.

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