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The nature of human beings is to automatically transfer that which begins as a privilege – an extra perk in life – into a right, something that the person is automatically entitled to have. No one ever wants to experience the loss of the privilege or boon that one once attained. A reduction in salary, loss of a professional or commercial title, the defeats suffered in an election, all of these are painful experiences to have to absorb in one's lifetime.

Therefore, we are witness to former government and legislative position holders, even when they are no longer serving in that position, called by the former title. This is not necessarily arrogance or hubris on their part but rather an example of how something that once was a privilege now, because of time and circumstance, is deemed to be a right.
And, while it is possible to absorb and even understand the loss of privileges, human beings find it difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, when they consider denial to be a right, an entitlement. A very large portion of the governmental budget in all Western societies, as well as the State of Israel, include what are euphemistically called entitlements. Social Security, healthcare programs, Workmen's Compensation, unemployment benefits and many other types of welfare programs all began as privileges granted by the government. Today they are untouchable rights that no political party or ambitious politician would dare touch or curtail. There simply is no way to take something that people now view as a right and restore it to its original status as being a privilege.
The Western world is based on the belief that there are “certain inalienable rights” that exist for the benefit of all human beings. The American Declaration of Independence listed these rights as being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among other unspecified other ones. France phrased it differently as being liberty, equality and fraternity. Whatever phrases or words are used, it is obvious that all believe that there are certain basic rights that all human beings are entitled to, and that simply being alive is sufficient to acquire these entitlements for one’s self.
This mental and social attitude governs much of current society. There are precious few things left in our world that we would consider to be a privilege and something that we are allowed to automatically demand for ourselves as a right. And when, for whatever reason, one is diminished or removed from our lives, a personal or even national crisis develops.
This attitude drives much of society today especially among our young. Growing up with a sense of entitlement often leads to great complications in later life when those entitlements somehow disappear or are even only diminished. Something that we feel that we are entitled to is never quite as appreciated or valued as something that you receive as a privilege or a gift. Rights may be squandered easily while privileges somehow are more guarded and treasured.
Affluence contributes to changing privileges into rights. Pesach vacations, school trips to Poland, a gap year or two of study in Israel, a college education, major support from others while continuing to study after marriage, are examples in our current Jewish world of privileges, many of which were completely unknown in an earlier generation of Orthodox Jewish life. These have become rights, not even obligations. This attitude leads to a narcissistic and skewed society.
The basis of the Torah is gratitude – gratitude to our parents, teachers, elders and even to governmental authorities. All this is ultimately related to the gratitude to our Creator with the life and sustenance that has been granted to us. The Talmud disparages those who are chronic complainers about life and its vicissitudes by stating: “It is sufficient that the person is still alive!”
The attitude of Judaism towards life generally is that everything is really a privilege, even life itself. It is easier to deal with the challenges that life imposes upon us if one views it from the vantage point of privilege rather than that of entitlement and rights.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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