We have a world already prepared to prolong the useful life of each person and the average life expectancy. Life expectancy is growing at unimaginable rates in a world in which we are probably not prepared to sustain an average 120-year-old humanity in the near future.
Food is produced in the world that could already cover the food needs of the entire world more than once.
However, on the other hand, recent data (and not so recent) show that 1,200 million people are in extreme poverty living on less than a dollar a day, 3,000 million are below the poverty line, earning less than two dollars a day, 800 million suffer from hunger, 1.3 billion people lack drinking water, 3 billion do not have sanitation services, 2 billion lack electricity. The consequences are bloody. 30,000 children die daily from preventable causes linked to poverty, while life expectancy in the 26 richest countries exceeds 78 years, in the 49 poorest it is only 53 years, 1,700,000 people die annually from diseases linked to contaminated water, lack of hygiene and lack of other basic sanitary conditions.
While only 6 children out of every thousand die before reaching one year of age in the richest countries, it is 100 in the poorest. More than 500,000 mothers give birth annually, 98% in developing countries. Disparities have also widened. The 20% of the world's population living in rich countries own 86% of the world's gross product, 82% of exports, more than 95% of credit, and the poorest 20% have only 1%. all of it.
While other religions or creeds give a preponderant place to the poor or to poverty, as a sign of humility and dedication to the Creator, the Torah does not have that policy.
Our Torah, the basis of Judaism, and founding text also recognized by Christianity and other religions, actively deals with the great economic and social issues of the human race. It places at the center of its attention issues such as poverty, social exclusion, inequalities, and the responsibilities of society in the face of these issues. But it does not do so from the overvaluation of the poor per se, but from the responsibility that the rest of the people, who have the favor or the ability to avoid poverty, must have in the face of those who do not.
Among the fundamental visions that the biblical text poses to the human race, there are the following:
1. The idea of responsibility for each other
Human beings have an ethical obligation to care for their fellow human beings. Solidarity is not an option but a mandate. In Leviticus the divinity prescribes "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (19:18). Doing it like this on a daily basis does not deserve special recognition, it is human being. In the words of Abraham Y. Heschel (1987) it is simply "the right way to live."
2. Poverty must be eradicated
For the Torah, poverty is not inevitable. It is not in the divine design. Quite the contrary. The design is that the human being has full possibilities of realization. The text says "It is good that there should be no needy among you" (Deuteronomy 15-4). Yeshahahu Leibowicz emphasizes that "it should not be understood as a divine promise, but as a requirement imposed on man. We must avoid creating a reality in which there will be indigents among us." According to his opinion the Prophets are not oracles, they do not say what is going to happen, but what should happen.
3. The dignity of the poor must be preserved by all means
For the biblical text, the poor are human beings equal to everyone. Poverty does not reduce one iota their character as creatures created by Divinity, in its image and likeness. And as such, they deserve the same care and the same respect as each one of the rest of the members of the People and of Society. Faced with the usual tendency in today's societies to devalue the poor, the biblical message is opposite. It even underlines that those who take advantage of orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor, the figures of exclusion in Antiquity, will have to face Divinity itself. She especially protects the poor.
The defense of the human dignity of the poor is so vigorous that an at first sight incomprehensible obligation is even imposed on them. The texts say that one who is very poor should still help someone who is poorer than him. The question is why, being in that difficult condition, he is required to help others. The answer is that we do not want to deprive the poor of an obligation that is central to the idea of human dignity, that of solidarity with their fellow men.
Leket, Shikhhah, and Pe'ah, the three mitzvot referring to agriculture that preserve part of what is harvested justly for widows, orphans and foreigners, that is, the poverty groups par excellence. Whatever spilled from the harvest; the ends of the fields and even part of what had to be harvested, had to be left for those who had less.
4. Society must organize itself to combat poverty and open up opportunities
The idea of public policy, of the collective action of the community in the face of economic and social problems, is central to the biblical text. It establishes one of the first tax systems in history through the tithe, 10% of the production intended to support priests, orphans, widows and foreigners, market regulations that try to ensure a fair price, good quality of products, the impossibility of corrupt practices, rules regarding the labor market that are precursors of labor law, and norms to ensure that the operation of justice is equitable and the rights of the weakest are protected.
Interpreting the Torah, Maimonides established in the 11th century a Tzedakah hierarchy of eight levels, according to the degree of genuineness, anonymity, and effectiveness of the help. The highest of all is "to help the other in such a way that later he does not need help, entering into partnership with him, or giving him a loan or even, better, in that the helped one knows from whom the help came."
In the Talmud it is considered that Tzedaka, the act of solidarity, is "equal in importance to all the other commandments combined" (Bava Bathra, 9th, Babylonian Talmud) Talmudic commentators point out (Chinuj 478) "If you are able to help someone who is poor and you neglect to do so, you are transgressing a direct prohibition of the Torah."
The biblical concept not only punishes the action that causes harm to the other, it goes much further. He calls for volunteering, the active behavior of help, and considers that omission is a serious error, not acting when it could be done. Close the doors to all forms of insensitivity, both active and passive. Faced with the suffering of the other, one must act. Vaikra teaches (19:16) "do not neglect the blood of your neighbor".
Faced with the great riches that globalization offers us and the search for personal well-being, which is ALSO a prescription of the Torah, the demand of the Psalms resonates strongly when they say (Psalm LXXXII:.3) "Do justice to the poor and the orphan Judge with equity the afflicted and the needy. Deliver the afflicted and the needy."
But who did not already know all this?
Of course all these concepts are well known without needing to be mentioned or remembered. Only that we fall asleep in our daily life and we lock ourselves in our personal or family enjoyment.
Faced with the cold that we have to live this year and the number of people who need a shelter and a hot plate of food, let us contribute a part to improve the situation of those who need it, approaching us to help, to give our contribution to the institutions that today they deal with it.
Let's also bring a coat, a blanket, a hat to our Beth El community at 1607 Genesee St., which will be sent to one of the institutions that house and help those with fewer resources to spend a better winter.
Let us contribute our grain of sand in the enormous mitzvah of Letaken Olam bemalchut Shaddai—to correct this world in the kingdom of God.