Generations of dependence and poverty

Rabbi Berel Wein, | updated: 07:17

Judaism Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
pr

One of the saddest and most disturbing aspects in much of our society is the continuity of dependence and poverty within families from one generation to the next. As a Rabbi, I receive many requests to help the needy on a regular and constant basis. Within my limited abilities, I do what I can or at least what I think I can.

Some years ago, there was a young woman who came to me and asked if I could somehow sponsor her tuition in high school so that she could obtain an education and later be self-sufficient in life. I was impressed by her request and I raised a considerable amount of money, which, added to my contribution to the cause, proved enough for the school to accept her.

She was not a great student, not having done very well in elementary school and to compound that, she came from a home completely dependent upon welfare and charity, with older siblings who were constantly in financial difficulties and begging for handouts on a regular basis.

I spoke with her and hoped that I had convinced her that she could lift herself out of this situation. I emphasized that through her education and efforts, she would somehow be able to raise herself to self-sufficiency and productivity. She graduated school and found a decent job but her mother, who is constantly badgering people for money and has no intention of working herself, literally confiscated her daughter's earnings to use them for the family. This produced a situation from which I saw that this poor girl had no escape. Eventually she too would be doomed to living off the generosity of others and of the state. I was heart-broken by this situation.

The girl eventually married a yeshiva student who had no education outside of his Talmudic studies and apparently had no intention to ever working on a regular basis to support himself and his wife. I helped the girl with the wedding, but it was with a heavy heart and not with much joy. Naturally within a number of years, children were born, and the cycle of poverty and dependence had begun once again.

The family is in constant financial difficulty, borrowing from one lending institution to pay off previous obligations, so deeply mired in debt that it would take a miracle to correct. And, even if somehow enough money could be raised to pay off all their debts, it would not be long, I am afraid, that the cycle would begin all over again. Naturally, they are in contact with me on a regular basis simply to put food on the table and to maintain some sort of roof over their heads. But they are young, with life still ahead of them and it is this that troubles me so greatly. The situation seems so hopeless.

I have no long-term solution to offer for this situation. And the tragedy is that there are thousands of such situations that exist in today's state of Israel. We are cognizant and grateful for the economic strength and vibrancy of our society. But we tend to ignore or at least overlook the dark side of the picture and the fact that a considerable section of Israeli society is completely dependent upon governmental support and charitable contributions. The Torah at one and the same time promises us that ‘there will be no poor people in your land’ and  ‘the poor will never disappear from the midst of your society.’ There have been many interpretations as to how to explain this seeming contradiction. One of the interpretations is that it is really society that determines whether it wishes to have poverty-stricken families within it or to attempt to create a society where poverty can be minimized if not even eliminated.

Of course, in our time the threshold of poverty has taken on a different level because of governmental support and because of the numerous – here in Israel they are innumerable – charity organizations that are constantly helping the needy. Nevertheless, this should not be a problem that is inherited in families for generations and it is certainly not the society that we envision for our country and nation. Jews are resourceful people who should somehow be encouraged to  use all of their resources.




top