In My Own Words: Divide and conquer

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

“We need to grab our piece of the pie.” That worldview suggests that there are limited resources and, if someone else gets a piece of that pie, there will be less for us. It also means that we are always in competition for every resource, and therefore we should grab what we want and not worry about others. That, of course, is a very un-Jewish way of looking at the world since we are required to help those in need.

I thought about this after seeing Facebook posts saying that instead of forgiving student loans, we should free cancer patients from debt. Why, I wondered, does this have to be one or the other? These posts didn’t note that people wouldn’t have this level of debt if, like most first-world countries, we had universal health care. Nor did anyone suggest that some of these students became doctors and medical researchers who either minister to cancer patients or are searching for a cure for cancer. Instead, two groups in debt are being pitted against each other.

Divide and conquer: that’s how the oppressed are kept in their place. Instead of banding together to find communal solutions to these problems so future generations won’t face them, they are pitted against each other, as if there aren’t enough resources to help both of them, which there are. Any solutions, though, would disrupt the status quo of businesses (for example, banks and insurance companies) who are making a great deal of money off of their misery. Rather than seeing these problems as societal ones that could be fixed, people are encouraged to focus on the smaller picture and the need to grab their piece of the pie.

Why do some people feel this way? I can only quote a person who told me she refused to help others working in her field because no one helped her when she was struggling. All I could think of was, “Wouldn’t it better if we all held out a hand to help each other?” We’ve seen that work on a small scale: Go Fund Me accounts and meal trains are only a few examples. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do this on a grander scale?

Next time someone asks you to pit two groups in need against each other, stop first to think who really benefits. In this case, neither group does. The only ones who benefit are those making money off of their misery. Let’s not add to that misery; let’s look for a different solution to the problem, one that will help both. That’s the Jewish thing to do.