The Real Safety Net

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
a lot.

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
government spends.  


6 thoughts on “The Real Safety Net”

  1. Hi Susan:
    Thank you for once again reinforcing my passionate conviction that “Everybody needs a rabbi!”. As stated on pg. 94 of the Thought Tools 2008 book to which your musing refers, “When applied to life by knowledgeable rabbis, Biblical verses become roadmaps to reality”.
    The alternative to learning the way the world REALLY works (from the Bible, with a assistance of qualified guide) is to remain stuck in the “fixed framework of reality which shackles so many people to darkness and ignorance” (ibid, pg. 26).
    Human history and the Bible both demonstrate that a fifty or so year cycle of Stuggle > Affluence > Decadence seems to be inevitable. It would appear that we are clearly living well into the devolving part. We may not be able to stop the cycle, but I’m not sure that we have to! As things continue to decay around us morally, financially, and even physically we need to “have faith, spread faith, and smile at everyone” (ibid, pg. 46). As we do so, we’ll continue to grow our families, our circle of friends and our business associates that will allow us to weather the storm together (after all, our money depends on them!). We may not cause all of society to function successfully, but we sure can continue to contribute to the functional success of our own community of friends, businesses, and customers. I may not be able to stop somebody else from being depressed, but conversly they can’t stop me from being optimistic either. And depressed people usually don’t stay nearly as depressed when there around lots of smiling happy people having fun – like at your grandson Yosef’s siyum!
    I just love how Rabbi Lapin’s “The Gathering Storm” CD does an absolutely magnificent job of illustrating this Struggle > Affluence > Decadence cycle from the Biblical text of the book fo Genesis as only a qualified rabbi can do. Three of the ten generations from Adam to Noah named Kenan, Mehalalel, and Jared translate literally to “material acquisitiveness”, “spiritual quest”, and “cultural decline”, respectively. In clearly teaching us the way the world REALLY works, I believe the Lord would have us to “deal with it” by perpetually looking to Him, and in our so doing He would have us to prosper in spite of circumstances.
    But why am I telling you all of this. You already know it! I guess my point is that by taking the 35 qazillion foot view of our current predicament, well, we can thank goodness that we all practice our belief that “Everybody needs a rabbi”. And thank goodness that you, your husband and your network of supporting friends and family are all here.
    We thank God who is all-loving and all-wise for his faithful provision this holiday season. May His bountifil blessing be upon you and yours.

  2. Dear Susan,
    This column resonates very personally to me, as you certainly know. It is my son Avi who is privileged to teach your grandson Yosef, and that relationship could never have evolved without the deep and meaningful relationship forged between my husband and me and you and Rabbi Lapin, as well as your dear, late in-laws. The Lapins have taught our family Torah values since before our marriage, adding a depth of meaning to our lives we could otherwise never have known.
    As a result, we are witnessing the further transmission of this spiritual heritage, and the friendships that accompany it, to our children’s generation, and perhaps even to the generation that will follow. Indeed, no government program could ever, ever begin to add this kind of personal consequence to our lives.
    Thank you, Susan, for always writing such thought-provoking columns, and for this one in particular!

  3. Happy Chanukah to you, your family, and extended family. I so enjoyed this installment of both of your columns. I agree with James comments. Idolatry has been a theme in mankind’s history beginning in Genesis. Even Adam and Eve were not satisfied with having everything provided for them including a face-to-face personal relationship with the ultimate provider.
    Today is no different we have just changed idols; now it is the government and people allow it to continue to intrude in our lives in exchange for the freebies (but there is no free lunch) it claims to provide. When we examine the lives of our ancestors in scripture, today is really no different is it? Having the provisions of God were not good enough for them (wanting a king) and today most people look to their idol the government for their provision as well. This is how idolatry destroys lives, moving people further and further away from the provider of everything including our very breath.
    Wishing you joy, love, and light,

  4. Susan,
    What you say is very true. I see more and more the government trying to become our “God”. Taking charity away from individuals and the churches. That is why, in my opinion, we are creating an entitlement society. When the government gives to you, there is no thankfulness, some people neither know nor care where the money, etc.. comes from. That is not charity. I believe this is wrong and evil at its core.

  5. Thanks and blessings to the both of you for your weekly spiritual thoughts. As for the Rabbi’s Hebrew wizardry, it is enlightening to see a demonstration of the Hebrew Weltanschauung compared to that of the Greek, as demonstrated in the language in eye-opening manner. Neat!
    As for Susan’s Musings, Mrs. Lapin has opened up a frightening little window on the future. In the last monstrous election, it was deeply unsettling to see how many voters, clearly numbering in the millions, seem to believe deeply and cordially that a mega-Government steered by mere flawed human beings could be capable of genuine human feeling, compassionate and benign. Really? Mr. Lincoln told us the Lord must have loved fools, for he made so many of them.
    This mega-Government by rule of Law will seize my hard-earned worldly goods, using weapons of death if need be, to redistribute to those whomever the Government favors or labels as “less fortunate,” who have not worked for my goods. Despite the classic Marxist rhetoric, there is no justice in this, for I am neither a cruel industrialist, nor have I ever stolen anything from a poor man. Nor did my fathers and mothers, poor dirt farmers who raised themselves year after bitter year by their own bootstraps.
    The Left’s relentless attack on every societal icon, chiefly Christianity as the dominant religion, but now even football, is to persuade and convince us that we are to worship not the Lord, but the Government, which now will protect us in loco parentis from ourselves and our violent whims. The message is, rely not on yourself nor on each other, but upon Government. Big Brother knows best. Once the Progressives have superseded the archaic Constitution with that ridiculous old phantom “God” in its Preamble, then we the People will have no more inalienable rights. We will belong not to God, but entirely to Government, who will next reassign rights to its human resources as it pleases.
    Wishing you a blessed Chanukah!

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