As a fan of geography (Not social studies, but geography!) I can think of quite a few islands with an international border cutting through them. Cyprus, St. Martin, and Ireland come to mind. It is the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, however, that fascinates me the most. On no other divided island I know, does the border divide so starkly between developed and primitive as it does on Hispaniola. There it divides between hopeless, pitiful Haiti and the modern, prosperous Dominican Republic.
You can get almost anywhere on paved roads in the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, not so much. It has less than one tenth of the roads of its neighbor. The terrain, weather, and population of the two countries are largely similar. Yet you can enjoy a Caribbean vacation at any one of a large number of tourist resorts in the Dominican Republic, each of which has reliable electricity, water, and sanitation. Not so much in Haiti. In fact, hardly at all. Crime in the Dominican Republic is no worse than in any of the other popular Caribbean destinations. In Haiti, crime is epidemic. In fact, the United States State Department issued a travel advisory about six months ago. It reads, “Do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor health care infrastructure.”
With all that the two nations share, including a similar slave/colonial history (Haiti-France, DR-Spain) the very evident differences I have described are striking. Pompous experts, know-it-all scientists, effete intellectuals, and self-important United Nations bureaucrats have repeatedly tried to account for the differences between these two nations that share a tropical paradise of an island.
These ‘experts’ focus on the same things. Haiti has too many mountains. I ask: more than Switzerland? Climate and topology make agriculture harder in Haiti. I ask: harder than in Singapore and Hong Kong? France was a terrible colonizer and left behind chaos and doom. I ask: but they did okay with Martinique and St. Martin in the Caribbean and the islands of French Polynesia in the Pacific, didn’t they?
So, how do we explain the crime and squalor of Haiti alongside the success of the Dominican Republic? Maybe it is nothing external; not the weather, not the mountains, not the French, but instead it is something internal.
In order to more effectively explore that shocking notion, take a quick glance at 72 verses, Numbers 7:12 through to Numbers 7:83. I say ‘a quick glance’ because you’ll quickly observe that those 72 verses comprise six verses repeated identically twelve times. Each sequence of six verses details the gifts brought by the prince of each of the twelve tribes. And every one of the twelve princes brought exactly the same gift.
Wouldn’t you agree that in the interests of fine writing, good editing, and concern for the readers’ attention, it could have been written far more briefly. “…and here follows the list of gifts brought by each of the twelve princes whose names are listed in the appendix.” Instead of 72 verses, it could have been told in six or seven. This question is particularly powerful because ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that there is not an unnecessary letter in all the Torah. Yet here we suspect that we are looking at about 65 redundant verses.
The answer is that repeating each prince’s gift in what is the longest chapter in the Five Books of Moses is not to stress their similarity but to emphasize the differences between the gifts. Although all the gifts were physically identical, each was spiritually distinctive. Each gift took on a spiritual tone from the individuality of the donor. We live in a world of both physical and spiritual. We are all both body and soul. We might resemble someone else in terms of physical superficialities, but our souls are entirely unique.
What would happen if two young siblings each decided to give their mother one of the chocolate candies they had received from an aunt? When they realize they both gave mom the same thing, they might be upset. What would the mother do? She would reassure them that each gift is precious and unique because it came from her two precious and unique children. And you know what? She would be telling them the absolute truth.
The uniqueness comes from the spiritual interior and not from the physical external. Perhaps the same is true for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Their physical roots and reality are almost indistinguishable, but the very different results might flow from an all-important spiritual distinction.
What is that spiritual distinction? In the Dominican Republic about 75% of the population is Christian. In Haiti, not only is the Christian proportion of the populace far lower with the balance practicing voodoo, or as it is now pretentiously known, Vodou, but even most of those professing Christianity blend their Catholicism with the practices of voodoo.
Not all religions produce the same form of societies. In fact, some so-called religions should be better understood as superstitions. To be a religion, the system of belief must answer the three chief existential questions of humanity. 1) How did we get here? 2) Where are we ultimately headed to? 3) What should we be doing while we are here? Bible-based Judeo-Christian thinking explicitly answers those questions and thereby inspires its devotees to build and sustain the civilization whose benefits we cherish and sometimes take for granted. I suspect that voodoo, which doesn’t even attempt to answer the important three questions, is what shackles Haiti to failure and hopelessness.
This Thought Tool is dedicated in memory of Ido Rosenthal, 45, who ran into danger when he heard of the terrorist incursion on October 7, 2023, fought valiantly, but was shot and killed. He is survived by his parents, sisters, wife, and three children.
And with prayers for the release of all the hostages, and among them, Gali Berman and his twin brother Ziv, age 26. They were kidnapped from their home on October 7, 2023.
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