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 A recent report broadcast on Israeli radio detailed the fact that approximately 50% of all of those who declared bankruptcy and were eventually freed from the clutches of the creditors to whom they owed money, within a few years found themselves once again heavily in debt and living a life of moderate to abject poverty.

The sociologists and economists who prepared this report had many reasons as to why this should occur. Partly, it is simply human nature and the fact that human beings continue to repeat past errors of judgment and behavior no matter how dire the consequences may be. Another reason advanced was that living in Israel above the poverty line requires a moderate degree of wealth. The cost of living here is high, even as far as the necessities of food, clothing and shelter – approaching the levels of certain EU countries. Also, it becomes apparent  that someone who has declared bankruptcy is unlikely to be able to obtain the credit that would allow the breathing space to begin again.
And finally, there are people who apparently simply glorify in poverty. It has become a way of life for them and they spend their energy and time scheming, begging, borrowing, and pursuing welfare agencies instead of turning their time and efforts towards productive work, education or career. Whatever the reasons, and without casting blame or aspersion on anyone concerned, this is a serious personal and national problem that creates tragic consequences for society.
There are those who for reasons of their own – lack of energy, skills, social graces or even religious conviction – refuse to enter the labor market seriously to improve their financial and living conditions. I have only anecdotal experience with such people but, over six decades in the rabbinate I trust that you will believe me that I have met many such individuals. And very early on, in my experience, I realize that in many cases, no matter what I would do for them – aside from giving them money – would ever change them or bring them to try to be self-sufficient.
I am not a psychologist and certainly not a financial counselor, so I've pretty much given up on trying to reform such individuals. I have put them in contact with organizations that would help train them for employment and how to manage budgets and finances. But, in a relatively short time, most of them reverted back to a beggar's life and the crushing psychology of constant debt.
I have noticed that people raised in poverty and penury finds it very difficult to raise themselves from that type of society. I am reminded of a true incident, that of a father who, for all his life, came to people to beg for money. And when he passed away, the only asset that he left for his sons was a list of the people who had given him money. The sons could not agree as to how to divide this asset amongst themselves and the manner eventually was adjudicated in a rabbinic court. The tragedy of this situation masks the ironic humor that lies behind it.
The Torah contains two verses that, on the surface, seemingly contradict each other. On one hand it promises us that there will be no destitute person amongst all the Jewish people in the land of Israel. On the other hand, it assures us that there always will be such people that exist in Jewish society. Over the centuries there been many theories advanced as to how it is possible, or even if it is possible, to reconcile these two verses. Many have advanced the idea that the elimination of poverty is a goal and that the Torah commands us to pursue this goal just as it does so for other moral goals it espouses, even though it is improbable that the goal will ever be achieved.
The way poverty statistics are reckoned today, there will always be people below the poverty line even if they have substantial wealth and are living a comfortable life. Relative to those above the poverty line who are, in truth, very wealthy, they are designated as impoverished. However, regarding habitual poverty, we are talking about those who have trouble providing the daily necessities for themselves and their families. This is a very difficult problem for our society and will require an enormous change of attitude, education and societal structure to make headway in this area. We hope and pray that somehow this radical change will occur.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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