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Rich Man, Poor Man

Since time immemorial, people have been divided into rich and poor. Some historians and anthropologists argue that these divisions are not an inevitable by-product of civilization; it is conceivable for society to develop along the lines of communal rather than private property, leading to greater equality in wealth and possessions. In Jewish law the concept of private property is strongly upheld. Along with it, however, is the obligation of the rich person to share his possessions and property with the poor.

If G-d wants the poor to be provided for, why did He create a society that was unequal to begin with? Why not provide the poor person with his needs directly, and not require him to undergo the indignity of begging from the rich?

A similar question can be asked of the mitzvah of circumcision, described in this week’s Torah portion. If G-d wanted men to be circumcised, why did He create them with a foreskin?

Our sages answer that G-d created the world in a manner that allowed people to perfect it. Not that G-d “needs” any assistance from us in making His world habitable. He could have created the world in any form He desired, including one that would not have needed any human intervention. But He wanted to leave room for our input, for our effort

When a Jew carries out his Divinely appointed mission in this world, He becomes a partner with G-d and receives an abundance of blessing, not as a gift but as a reward. All the blessings that G-d grants to us – health, children, livelihood – become a deserved grant rather than a donation, the “bread of shame” as our sages call it.

For this reason G-d created the world in a manner that food needs to be cooked and bodies need to be circumcised – not that He couldn’t have created the world differently, but He wanted our investment of effort.

This can also answer the question of why we need the division between rich and poor, rather than have everything apportioned equally. G-d wants to allow us the opportunity to learn kindness, compassion and benevolence, to emulate His ways. And the way to do that is to observe a lack in someone else and endeavor to fill it. But G-d also created the world as a revolving door. Our financial status shifts over time, and today’s millionaire can be tomorrow’s pauper, and vice versa. We never know when it will be our turn to be a giver and when we will need to be on the receiving end. This very uncertainty is what keeps us humble and allows us to thank G-d for the blessings that He generously showers upon us.

Both wealth and poverty present their own challenges. The indigent person struggles to maintain his dignity and faith in G-d despite his reduced circumstances. The affluent one must constantly recognize that it was not his power, creativity or intelligence that brought him wealth, but G-d’s blessing alone. True wealth is humbling. And when we share what we have with others, we call G-d’s blessing upon ourselves and are able to give even more to charity.

Our mission, of becoming partners with G-d in creation, is nearing its completion. Through our many acts of charity and loving-kindness over the generations, our many mitzvot that brought perfection to the world G-d created, have invested the world with G-dliness and transformed it. With the revelation of Moshiach, we will be able to see that transformation with our eyes of flesh.

(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, King Moshiach, Likutei Sichot vol. 27, p. 342-343.)


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