What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in
honor of my nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite
My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s
house. A siyum marks the conclusion
of learning a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools 2008.)
In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish
wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal
to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher
to a celebratory dinner.
What made this event particularly special is that we have
known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles,
they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding;
our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the
teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our
children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child
was a natural choice.
When society functions successfully, this is how life works.
People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small
family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like
synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth
of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and
books. In a time of need, such as
illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each
other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.
Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and
friendship ties shrink. The more an impersonal government provides, the less
people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they
generally need government support. As
taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more
people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family
and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming
relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me”
associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary
part of successful living.
In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love,
affection, compassion or charity. It can provide money and services, but not
heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of
your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker. It can fool you into thinking that you are
self-sufficient, while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing
that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is
increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to
each other. The sad results are poorer
and more bitter lives.
Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter
to the siyum. Since my husband’s late
parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends,
four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of
safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a