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No Free Lunch
by Rabbi Berel Wein
This article orignally appeared in The Jerusalem Post

  Rated by 14 users   |   Viewed 8275 times since 8/12/09   |   16 Comments
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8/12/09

The current economic downturn has once again proven the truth of the adage that there is no free lunch in economic matters. In my opinion it is true in general life and in spiritual life as well. Many of the current problems, scandals and issues that have beset our world can be attributed to this attitude that many people have - that a free lunch is always present and eatable without later consequences. Thus complete reliance on political arm twisting in order to obtain governmental welfare largesse, which initially appears to be a lavish free lunch, carries with it great costs.

It creates a dependency mentality that permeates a large section of our society and is generational in its effects. It creates a culture of begging and eventually of cheating and dishonesty, with a false impression that somehow stealing from the government is not really stealing. It turns other citizens against us, seeing us as being basically predatory, extortionist and above all lazy and dishonest.

I am aware of a case where a man who traveled often to collect money solely on his own behalf, when he passed away, the asset that his sons fought about and actually contested in a rabbinic court was his list of donors. A generation brought up to believe that there is no necessity for it to work in order to make a living for one’s family is doomed to a spiritual and social disaster - and eventual self-destruction. There is no free lunch for anyone in this world.

However, the culture that demands that young men be supported indefinitely by struggling in-laws also convinces a large section of young people that a free lunch is not only possible but it is to be justifiably expected. This is also running into some opposition now because of the diminished economic realities of our current situation. But in my opinion it is morally and practically an indefensible position. It causes heartbreak and division within families and it undoubtedly fosters a family of dysfunction and dependency.

There are families in Israel who are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with no hope of ever crawling out of this difficulty because of their supporting children and grandchildren who are not themselves working. In Israel it is almost impossible to survive financially unless there are two incomes in the family. When one of the incomes has to be supplied by parents or grandparents then the situation becomes a generational challenge and problem.

The cost in mental and physical health to all concerned is enormous and continuous. Yet many young couples in our society are convinced that they are entitled. But only later to their dismay do they realize that the lunch is not free in any respect. That such a system is encouraged by responsible religious and educational leaders is deeply troubling to me. Our children and grandchildren should be educated and trained to be self sufficient, independent and to realize and believe that there is really no free lunch for anyone in this world.

It is interesting to note that there are governmental policies that also seem to be based upon the false notion that a free lunch is available. The relationship of Israel with the rest of the world, especially with the United States, also was based on the false premise that we are entitled because of the Holocaust and the sympathy engendered thereby to the Jews. But that also was a false notion whose influence has long ago dissipated. The reliance on the Holocaust as a defense for our national existence as a state in the Land of Israel was a mistaken free ride from the start.

Ben Gurion was wise enough to tell the Peel Commission in 1936 that the Bible was our deed to the Holy Land. Ben Gurion in spite of being a secular agnostic was an Eastern European Jew whose grandfather had taken him to a Chasidic rebbe to receive a blessing. His successors in office in the main never had such beliefs and never expressed them publicly to the world till now. They relied on an illusory free lunch that no longer exits, no matter how many Holocaust courses and museums are created and financed.

Not believing in the eternal truth of our own G-d given cause has led us to lose our standing in the eyes of the world. That free lunch has turned out to be quite expensive as the current diplomatic situation clearly has shown. My friends, all rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there really is no free lunch.



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1. Hey...     8/13/09 - 1:57 AM
JN - NJ - joseph.nerenberg@verizon.net

Have some Emunah, wouldya?


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2.     8/13/09 - 10:12 AM
Benzion Twerski

It's all in the packaging. By the time we are ready to marry, we have been inundated with proclamations about the importance of learning Torah (full time), whether for the boys to follow that path or for the girls to demand this of their spouse. We are also taught that the Zevuluns of the world are doing a great thing. However, the catch is that the young marrieds are guided to believe that they are Yissochor and that their parents and in-laws, as well as others are the Zevuluns. There are multiple flaws in this logic.

Not everyone that is enrolled in full time learning should be.

Not every set of parents or in-laws is capable of supporting their non-working children.

Not every wife is capable of being the major breadwinner for the long term. Ever hear of childbirth?

Why do we seek to fulfill "limud haTorah" as a mitzvah shebigufo - a personal mission, while being a "tomeich Torah" is being only delegated to others?

Without a question, there are many forms of work and employment that are inappropriate for many. Sometimes because of the nature of the work, sometimes because of the training and education that are required to enter the field. Is it a chumro to refuse to leave the yeshiva to earn a living because one failed to learn to read and write the local language or take basic math courses? Are all forms of work considered "bitul Torah"?

I am not the "Torah im derech eretz" preacher. But our current extreme opposite is not working that well either. Can any of our leaders guide us to the Golden Path?

Meanwhile, no one would challenge the importance of Torah. As long as the current lifestyles are considered "Torah", no one will succeed in modifying them at all.


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3. to #2     8/13/09 - 1:56 PM
papa

[i believe u wrote elsewhere of ur connections [in a positive sense ofcourse] & their knowledge of your work as a therapist; if so] why dont u take ur argument to the gedolim- leaders??


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4. to benzion twersky     8/14/09 - 8:06 AM
papa

sorry my comment above [#3] was addressed to #2 benzion twersky. please reply. thanks


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5. Asking the Gedolim...     8/14/09 - 11:57 AM
Yardena - EY

The obligation to learn a vocation and to earn a parnasah is clearly written in Halachah. Every chassan signs a document (the Ketubah) promising to provide a livlihood for his new family. There really isn't a need to ask a rav about clearly stated Halachah - that's just a quirk of our generation. For example, I do not ask a rav about covering my hair or giving tzedakah; the Halachah is clear about my obligation to do so. I also know that if the Halachah commands me to do so, then it must benefit me in some way.

Men NEED to work, whether it's part-time (with part-time learning) or full-time, they NEED it. While there are many good avreichim, likely the people you know who are the most ehrlich and have the BEST middos (and I mean to their wives and children and parents, not just to their neighbors and chavrusas) are likely men who both work while setting aside seriously adhered to times for Torah-learning.


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6. It may just be b/c of...     8/14/09 - 4:29 PM
gregaaron

I'm not sure how many bochurim coming out of yeshiva honsetly feel that kollel is the right mehalech for them, and that it's actually the right and only way to live. A lot of it comes from the peer-pressure that someone who is not planning on learning is second-class, and just doesn't care. The girls feel the same way. That is not something that can be changed quickly - even if an entire Yeshiva dedicates itself to being the one that all of the boys go out to work, they will still feel the condescending looks of all of their friends and family.

Anyone else agree?


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7. to # 5 yardena     8/15/09 - 6:10 PM
papa

u missed my point. rabbi wein writes "...system is encouraged by ... LEADERS is deeply troubling to me " also benzion twersky seems to echo these words. & so i ask, why dont they take their troubling issue to those leaders??


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8. letting our boys breathe, and bitachon     8/17/09 - 10:12 AM
anonymousfornow

The other week there was a fine article in Yated about the need for our boys to have outlets, the lack of which may explain the prevalence of smoking, sholom zachor drinking, etc. I see the problem as not just having outlets legitimized, but respected. Used to be that the top boys were the ones visiting nursing homes erev Shabbos playing for the residents. Now, a kid does woodwork or plays an instrument? Must have had a learning disability and he "needed" the outlet and focusing opportunity. And smoking isn't bitul zman the way basketball is. (Never mind that basketball may just lengthen one's life.)

This isn't a tangent, this is integral to the discussion. By allowing our children these outlets we are also giving them skills, resourcefulness, and the competence needed to develop true self esteem. (Hope you're reading this, Dr. Twerski, this last bit was in honor of your family.) Because when the kids finally accept that the free lunch is over, these boys have no or little skills and real life experience and we are doing our boys a grave disservice by focusing on our girls developing skills and parnasa and ignoring them.

Re Mr. Bitachon (comment one): You don't know me. I think my family and I have been tested sufficiently on that score. My husband has done everything right - learned as long as we could manage, get a trade, start working hard and honorably, but it is not enough. At this point, with all our hishtadlus and modest living trust me, ALL we have going for us is bitachon.

I guess we are giving our kids the gift of independence because they know that at this point, there is no way we can offer them support. I guess, number one, you would prefer I say no way bederech hateva. Problem is, they have to be able to sign a lease and pay their rent, insurance, etc. We can't have bitachon on their account and set them up for disaster.


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9. CHAZAL (Repeatedly): Torah Im Parnasah Is the Ideal     8/17/09 - 11:52 AM
Basic Question

CHAZAL have stated repeatedly that Torah with an occupation is the ideal. Examples:

(1) Pirkei Avos [2: 2]: "Raban Gamliel...Omer, Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz...VeChal Torah SheEin Imah Melachah Sofah Btailah VeGoreres Ahvon."

(2) The RAMBAM in his Commentary of the above Mishnah is very outspoken about the necessity of combining Torah with Parnasah.

(3) In Gemara Brachos [35b]: "Amar Abaye, Harbei Asu KeRabi Yishmael [Torah with an occupation] VeAlsah VeYadam; KeRabi Shimon Bar Yochai [learning Torah full-time] VeLo Alsah VeYadam."

Accordingly why do so many Rashei Yeshivos today instruct their Talmidim to join a Kollel and have others support them?


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10. torah im...?     8/18/09 - 5:48 AM
Basic Answer to basic q.

1. general answer: we dont pasken/advise people based on a simple reading of chazal &/or reshonim. in fact even an in-depth reading is not enough. one needs to learn & understand the poskim-achronim to see how the chazl & reshonim are applied [not miss apply] halacha lemasse.

2. to ur specific q. see [m.brurah-biur halacha at end of siman 155],igros moshe y"d chelek bais,siman kuf tes zayin [pg.190]. michtivei chafetz chaim [helek beis,-tes vav]. sefer kraina de'igrisa [steipler rav] michtav nun beis.


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11. 10 part 1     8/18/09 - 9:11 AM
Anonymous

Yes--there is a danger in drawing inaccurate conclusions by taking isolated statements of chazal and applying them as we wish. The risk is that we read our preconceptions and biases into the words and explain them accordingly rather than using the quotes to shape our beliefs to begin with.

That said, this risk applies no matter who reads and explicates the words. With all good intentions, our rebbeim and Roshei yeshiva are not above submission to this same sort of negius. If we make sweeping social changes which would automatically lessen the brimmimg ranks of kollel students and the sizes and numbers of our yeshivos, this outcome raises red flags concerning our ability to make objective calls on the issue.


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12. For #10     8/18/09 - 10:46 AM
Anonymous

I'm sure that what you've written is very profound and relevant to the issue. Unfortunately, I can't read it, since I'm not young enough to text.

Could you please write it out in standard English?

Todah Rabah


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13. To #10     8/18/09 - 1:20 PM
Yehoshua

I took to the time to look up two of your sources and found them to not be supportive of full time learning for the masses.

The Mishna Brura is discussing the obligation to set aside time to learn in the morning and evening while working during the day. He then emphasizes the importance by bringing a Medrash focusing on the importance of learning all parts of Torah. He is clearly discussing what a working baal-habos should be doing.

The Igros Moshe is discussing whether it is permitted to take communal money to learn, be a rav or teacher. He concludes it is fine. He does not say anything about full-time learning being something the masses should be engaged in. In fact, the opposite conclusion can be drawn - that it is harmful for too many to be on communal support because it makes it more difficult for those who are really needed by the community to receive enough to live on.


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14. Why the Jerusalem Post?     8/19/09 - 11:51 PM
Sara Malek - Brooklyn, NY

There are some excellent points being made in this article, and of late, more and more such sentiment is being expressed in the charedi world. My question to Rabbi Wein is: Why write this in the Jerusalem Post, whose readers largely don't look very favorably upon the charedi population to begin with? Isn't this just adding fuel to their animosity?

If you wish to help the charedi population with this article, publish it in a Mishpacha, or some other charedi publication. Well and respectfully written articles, free of condescention and synicism are needed to help our community change the status quo.


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15. 14     8/20/09 - 8:32 AM
Anonymous

The papers whose readers most need exposure to Rabbi Wein's way of thinking will not dare publish such 'heresy.' There exists a tyranny of ideology in our society and its force is more compelling to many people than the value of Truth.


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16. Hmmmm....     8/20/09 - 9:31 AM
Observer - Chicago

If everyone has to be in kollel, and parents are forced to support their children/in-law, what happens to the school system?

Our school system, the very lifeblood of our community is being threatened by the forced support of full-time learning. Some schools may not open this year, and some are planning on opening but may shut in Teves.

Moral of the story:

1] There is no such thing as a free ride.

2] Many outside factors can cause the lifeblood of our community to be threatened, not everything can be blamed on individuals who were hurt. V'Hamaivin Yavin.


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17.     8/31/10 - 8:46 PM
Shuli - Monsey, NY

Even now, with schools closing due to financial problems nobody dares to say that it is the "kollel-for-all" philosophy that is killing us......

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