“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident”
PARSHAT BEHAR. Commentary by Yehuda HaKohen. While the Torah instructs the Hebrew Nation to establish a holy kingdom over the entire Land of Israel, a just social order and healthy economy are two crucial ingredients to fulfilling this charge. Since modern Zionism’s early years, there has existed a conflict between the adherents of socialism and those favoring a free market economy.
For decades following the reestablishment of Jewish independence, this battle has raged within Israeli society and formed deep social and political divides. Although security threats, increased westernization and foreign pressure to shrink the country’s borders in recent decades have often caused this issue to fade into the political background, Israel still lacks the socio-economic ideal necessary to serve as a paragon of justice and morality to other nations.
It is Israel’s mission to be a light to the world. Through being a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” the Jewish people are meant to educate mankind on how to run all facets of life according to HaShem’s highest ideal. The State of Israel must set an example of excellence to the rest of the world in every sphere of nationhood, from commerce and agriculture to warfare and social services. Israel must aspire to be a perfect nation that lives according to G-D’s Truth in every detail of life. The formula is not man-made but rather a sacred reality that transcends the limited perception of human beings. Only through being such a national light in the whole of Eretz Yisrael can the Hebrew Nation hope to bring mankind towards a future of genuine peace and universal fulfillment.
But in order for Israel to achieve this goal, it is necessary that we establish an economic system reflecting the morality and justice of our Torah. Because Israel is meant to serve as a national light to humankind, the Jewish state must build a model society where people live lives of dignity and responsibility while wholeheartedly sharing in the national burden.
“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.” (VAYIKRA 25:35)
While both capitalism and socialism have proven flawed in practice, both possess positive features from which man can benefit. But in order to arrive at a complete and perfect system, Israel cannot be limited to working within the framework of the economic choices offered by the outside world. Rather than play by rigid foreign rules, Israel must set our agenda in accordance with Hebrew values and create a new system in compliance with Torah culture – a system that will succeed in transcending contradictions while expressing the best and highest values in each model.
A central goal of the redemption process is freeing mankind from the limitations of dualistic thinking. Israel must bring man beyond the artificial contradictions of seemingly conflicting ideals towards a higher awareness of opposites not standing in opposition to one another but actually enjoying a deep inner unity.
A clear example of this concept is found in the Hebrew understanding of kedusha. While Western thinking has traditionally viewed holiness as the triumph of the spiritual over the physical, a more holistic approach recognizes kedusha as being the healthy unification of spirituality and physicality.
The same holds true for socio-economic issues. The Torah forbids us from allowing any Jew to fall into poverty as we are commanded to provide assistance to any and all of our brothers in need. While we can infer from much of the Talmud that the Torah supports certain elements of a free market, we are at the same time given many commandments that obligate us to take responsibility for those less fortunate. Helping the poor is not merely a recommendation but actually a directive from HaShem and Divine expression of justice, no different than safeguarding the Sabbath or liberating Eretz Yisrael from foreign rule. The Jewish Nation must determine and implement clear socio-economic solutions that will benefit both the collective society, as well as all of the individuals within. We must create a system that encourages personal initiative and limits government intrusion while at the same time promoting a sense of collective responsibility that will infuse the Hebrew Nation with an overriding social consciousness. Jewish statehood necessitates the establishment of an order founded on the morality of Israel and justice of our Torah – an order where no person goes hungry and all live in friendship and mutual respect, setting an example of justice and perfection to mankind.
With Love of Israel,