Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Entitlement and Ingratitude

One of the things that irritates me the most is a sense of entitlement.  I deal with it all the time at work.  People with no foot pain to speak of come in, having discovered that their health plan at work covers orthotics, and ask for custom orthoses because, well because they're covered so they want some.  I have an older man as a patient who sailed in the merchant marine during WW2.  He isn't technically a veteran but is classed as such by the Canadian government which offers WW2 veterans an extremely generous coverage plan.  He and his wife know the benefits off by heart and have become the kind of people that, if they had to pay for air to breathe, would hold their breath while waiting for me to give them a prescription for it so it would be covered.
I can't stand entitlement.
Another thing that bugs me are people with no sense of gratitude.  Again I deal with this on a regular basis.  A person goes into Emerg, the doctor discovers an important diagnosis and gives them the right treatment but what do they remember?  That they had to wait 3 hours to see the doctor in the first place and the chairs weren't comfortable.  Never mind that they didn't pay a cent for the experience or that the doctor got things right for them.  Come the holidays he won't be on their card list.
The reason I mention both is because avoidance of entitlement and hakaras hatov are core Jewish values.  One can easily see this from the parameters of our relationship with God.  Here is Someone who cannot take anything from us since, as the source of existence, He already has it all.  We can, in relating to Him, only take and since our very existence is a gift from Him there is nothing that is truly ours.  We cannot demand from Him anything.  How could we ever be in that position?  As David HaMelech, a"h, noted in Divrei HaYamim, when he was donating gold and silver to fund the future construction of our Holy Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt), the gold and silver came from God so all he was doing in donating was returning it to its source.  How much more so our very lives which are only maintained by the neshamos that He provided in the first place.  If Judaism allows us any rights it is only because He decided to grant them as a gift to us.
As a result, entitlement is something no Jew can afford to have when it comes to the Divine.  Similarly, a constant awareness of what we have received from Him demands of us a constant sense of hakaras hatov.  Lines like Baruch haShem! are uttered often but without the proper intent.  Shouting those two words shouldn't be about "Look how frum I am!" but with a sense of "Thank God for all the kindness He has shown me!"
And when it comes to bein Adam l'Chaveiro, both hakaras hatov and avoiding a sense of entitlement are also important. After all, Chazal implore us in the importance of imitatio Dei repeatedly.  The way to cleave to God is to imitate those thing we call his characteristics.  Therefore if we are to eschew entitlement and ingratitude in our relationship with him, we must certainly shun it in our relationship with our fellows.
It seems to me that the segment of the Chareidi population that is currently causing so much societal ill in Israel, along with the general malaise afflicting the greater part of that community both in Israel and Golus are because these values have been either ignored, abandoned or turned into aveiros.
During a recent family simcha I spoke with a guest who lives in the more "moderate" area of Ramat Beit Shemesh.  When I asked him about how things in Israel were he couldn't seem to find a single good thing to say about the State.  Living in Israel for him was "mamash Golus" for him, perhaps even worse Golus than living in North America.  The government was all about being anti-religious, the society around them was out to get them, they were suffering because of his oppression and so on.
Now let's take a step back and look at some facts.  The schools his children attend, where they learn no core curriculum subjects like math and science despite laws demanding that they do, is paid for by the State.  The street he walks out, the water that comes out of his tap, the hospital he goes to when he needs it are all provided for him by the State.  His quiet streets at night?  The ability to live freely in Israel without being subject to Islam's dhimmi restrictions that its neighbours would love to implement there?  All due to the State.
Yet while he takes everything the State offers him for gratitude his culture has turned lack of hakaras hatov into a mitzvah.  And he's one of the moderate ones!
Now I would never pretend that life is rosy in Israel and that the Chareidim are the only ones who refuse to see it.  Is their government perfect?  Well let me ask you: is any government perfect?  I could find plenty to complain about my governments here in Canada at all three levels.  Certainly the United States is trying to win some kind of competition of "most dysfunctional government in the world" these days.  Yet I am also acutely aware that my governments do provide some important services for me, that once in a while my tax dollars go to good use so I have no trouble feeling some gratitude towards them even while hoping that they will become better at what they do.  Not in Israel.  It seems any sign of gratitude towards the government that provides them with billions of dollars and a safe environment to grow in is consiered assur l'gamreh.
Yet if this same government that can do no good threatens to cut back on the financial largesse that it hands the Chareidi sector then the screaming and shouting immediately begin.  How dare the government try to destroy Torah and Judaism in Israel?  Don't they know the Chareidim are the reason the state exists?  Don't they know that they have an obligation to send this money to this non-productive sector of the economy?
Entitlement.  Lack of hakaras hatov.
What's more, the modern attitude in the Chareidi commuity of "the more machmir the better" has taken this to a new level, the level of the fanatics in Ramat Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim.  Taken to its extreme, lack of hakaras hatov become hate of one's benefactor while entitlement becomes bullying.  I don't just not want to say "thank you", I hate you for having given me anything at all which you better continue to do or I'll make your life miserable!
All the protests and riots seem to revolve around these two qualities, qualities which have been damaged by modern Chareidi philosophy but downright perverted by the fanatics.  Yes there is a world of difference between the average Chareidi who is disgusted by the fanatics and the fanatics themselves.  This does not change the fact that the sense of entitlement and dismissal of hakaras hatov that mainstream Chareidi philosophy endorses is the same as the sense of the fanatics, just not as intensely displayed.
To show that they stand against these whackjobs and within the ranks of civilized human beings, the Chareidim community needs to make a statement on this issue.  It's not enough to be like the Agudah and deplore the violence if not the goals of that violence.  There has to be a recognition that one can be grateful to the State of Israel without necessarily becoming an enthralled supporter of everything it does.  One can be kind and cooperative with one's fellow non-Chareidi, both religious and non-religious, without it being seen as an endorsement of that lifestyle.  One can step back and realize that publicly demanding things that most people around do not see as necessary or even desirable is not a kiddush HaShem but ultimately causes the opposite, Rachmana litzlan.
It is only with this kind of a sea change that Jewish society can take its needed step back from the brink and begin to function with any sense of cohesion again.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Garnel!

This is exactly what I have been saying and thinking for years. Like it would kill certain people to admit that the state, flawed as it is, deserves a bit of gratitude. Like the IDF, being made up of real people, their husbands and sons and daughters, deserves their gratitude for doing some things quite well.

As for your "moderate" haredi friend, after having lived here for 27 years, I no longer try to push anybody to stay here who doesn't want to. "Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out."

Anonymous said...


You're entitled to your opinion (of course!?) but are you thankful enough for the good things Chareidim routinely do?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay first of all, could you guys pick a moniiker? One Anonymous after the other is hard to keep track off. I don't need a name, serial number, rank or anything like that but a consistent title would help keep track of things.
And yes, I am very aware of the many important roles Chareidim have in maintain the survival of Torah Judaism. See Rav Yitzchak Adlerstein's latest piece on Cross Currents for example.
I think there are plenty of strengths in the Chareidi system but right now the weaknesses are obscuring them and ruining things for the community.
For example, what good is it having the "biggest" Poskim in the Jewish world if all we ever hear about from them is one ban after another? Yes, Ravs Eliashiv and Kanievsky put out incredible pieces of Torah but quick, what's the last you heard from them? The former said we should reject all secular society and the later doesn't know where Beit Shemesh is.
These concerns must be addressed.

Anony-moose said...

If some people are correct that the Kol Koreh bans etc. have names added in without authorization, maybe these don't shed any light on the Poskim's true opinions. Maybe the dreaded gatekeepers are behind these things.

Anonymous said...

I really hear you loud and clear, here! We have too much work to do towards ha'olam haba to believe so highly of ourselves that we've "arrived," because we're being taken care of like a child.

That's dignified living? No, that's when Amalek and Esau come from the rear and, c'v...