“Reish Lakish said: Whomever has a beit knesset in his city and he does not enter it, he is called a bad neighbour” (Brachot 8a). All too often today, people do not even know their neighbours, let alone visit them. Such is the sad reality in today’s impersonal world that one can live with hundreds of people in the same apartment building and yet be extremely lonely. Hearing a friendly knock on the door can be a great contributor to our well-being. G-d is, kveyachol, no different.
Throughout most of history wealth was primarily a result of land ownership. The more land one owned the wealthier one was. It is quite likely that it is the importance of land, and the Torah’s desire to ensure that one forced to sell his land not doom his descendants to perpetual poverty, that stands behind the Torah’s law of Yovel, where every 50 years, land reverts back to its original owner. It is only in recent times that real estate is just one of many ways to attain wealth.
We often imagine that the ancient world was one in which almost all lived on farms tilling their land, and only in modern times with the advent of the industrial revolution did cities become the centre of economic activity. There is much truth to this – as recently as the turn of the 20th century some 63% of Canadians lived on farms (compared to some 2% today).
“Arba shomrim hem, there are four guardians, a shomer chinam, an unpaid guardian; the shoel, the borrower; the sachar, the paid guardian and the socher, the renter” (Bava Metzia 93a).
Our society venerates youth, with an entire industry dedicated to keeping people looking and feeling young. While youth is great, it is old age that our tradition venerates.
“Everything goes according to the custom of the land (Bava Metzia 83a). As much as lawyers may try, it is impossible to contract for each and every eventuality when entering into an agreement. In many places of employment one does not even sign a contract. Despite best intentions an employee and employer may have different expectations as to the exact requirements of a job. Unless explicitly agreed otherwise, it is the custom of the land that rules.
One of the challenges of higher education is ensuring that one does not sit in an ivory tower where what one learns has little application to real life issues. This problem is no less, and probably much more, applicable to much of yeshiva education, especially in the modern period where yeshivot are independent institutions no longer part of the broader community.
“Pray for the welfare of government for, if not fear of them, man would swallow his friend alive” (Avot 3:2). Law and order is the backbone of any society and, along with security, are the most important duties of government. When law breaks down, society is doomed to anarchy, chaos and worse.
Family owned businesses comprise some 90% of all business enterprises in the United States, account for about 65% of gross domestic product and 75% of all new job hirings. Yet only some 30% survive to the second generation and a mere 12% of these businesses will be around in generation three (see here for example). Passing on a family heirloom is no easy task, and many things must go right to ensure a successful transition, whereas there are a multitude of factors that can derail the best of plans.
The traditional way to study Talmud is with a chavruta, a study partner, someone with whom to bounce off ideas, debate, question and argue about how to best understand the Talmudic sugya. Having someone to challenge our ideas and interpretations is indispensable in helping to clarify and refine our understanding of the text before us.