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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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The Origins Of Discontent


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It is difficult to remember the last time the United States was wracked with such dissension, discontent, protests, and economic hardship.

From my vantage point, “Occupy Wall Street” has been primarily a source of comic relief – the participants, their complaints, their solutions, and their antics – except for the sporadic violence, and the loss of job and business in lower Manhattan caused by the unwillingness of sane people to traverse that area under siege.

There are many different forces at play in these nationwide protests, most without any clue as to how to improve their personal financial situations or the national economy. Having occupied Wall Street, the occupiers do not seem to know what they want to do with it.

But there is discontent among the wealthy as well, who are being demonized for the most crass political purposes and who have lost much of their wealth in the last few years (from 2007 to 2009, there was a 40 percent drop in the number of millionaires filing federal tax returns, from 392,000 to 233,000), and among the middle class, who have seen their assets diminished and found near-insurmountable obstacles to their pursuit of the American dream. Everyone is unhappy.

And the more government meddles in our lives, the worse and less free our lives become. All this discontent is the fruit of the poisonous tree of big, intrusive government trying to run every aspect of our lives – and failing at all of it: telling us what we can eat, what we can drive, what types of bulbs we can use, how much water the shower nozzle can dispense, how high our fences can be, how many miles per gallon our cars should provide, what types of medical procedures we should or should not have, etc.

There are many who expect and want government to satisfy their every desire and care for their every need – to be given a job, a home, health care, retirement pay, and a host of other entitlements. I want none of that. I just want to be left alone.

America was founded on the premise of the right of the individual to pursue happiness as he sees fit – as long as his pursuit does not encroach on the rights of others. So a federal government should provide for the common defense against external enemies, enforce contracts so the commercial system remains viable, and build interstate roads and highways. Beyond that, I struggle to find where a federal government is useful or effective, and I resent that the fruit of my labor is confiscated to pay for useless, frivolous, unneeded and unwarranted boondoggles.

Consider how far we have traveled. In 1887, Texas was stricken by a drought (just like this past year). Congress appropriated $10,000 to purchase seed grain for the suffering farmers there. President Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill, saying: “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit….

“The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Cleveland added: “The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government its functions do not include the support of the people.”

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About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.


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One Response to “The Origins Of Discontent”

  1. Jonathan Gold says:

    Rabbi Pruzansky never disappoints. Great article on wealth from a torah perspective.

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