Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • the financial meltdown
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher ben Chaim

No free lunch


Rabbi Berel Wein

The current economic downturn has once again proven the adage that there is no free lunch in economic matters to be true. In my opinion it is true in general life and in spiritual life as well. Much of the current problems, scandals, dysfunctional life and scandals that have beset our world can be attributed to this attitude that many people do 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 behalf of himself passed away and 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 this time around in this world.

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 time. 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 to this free lunch. 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 to a free lunch because of the Holocaust and the sympathy engendered thereby to the Jews. But that also was a false free lunch 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 lunch 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 to see a Chasidic rebbe and receive a blessing from him. 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 studies courses and museums are created and financed. Not believing in the eternal truth of our own God 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 not withstanding, there really is no free lunch.

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