The core mistake of liberalism involves the confusion of charity and justice.
How do we know it’s a disastrous error to blur the distinction between these two timeless virtues?
Because the Bible specifically warns us against it.
Last Saturday, Jewish people around the world read Leviticus 19:15 as part of the weekly “Torah Portion” – the specific segment of the Five Books of Moses assigned since ancient times for synagogue recitation on this particular Sabbath of the calendar.
The text declares (in the best modern translation): “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”
The unmistakable commandment to avoid favoring the poor comes as something of a shock: doesn’t the Bible, and especially the New Testament, repeatedly remind us to deal generously with the less fortunate, and to care for widows, orphans and paupers in general?
The truth is that the Bible – both Old and New Testament—views compassion as a personal obligation rather than a public priority for governmental or judicial policy. The all important warning against tilting the scales of justice toward the poor appears just three verses before the most famous single injunction in all of Scripture: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus, 19:18).The juxtaposition of God’s directives makes it clear that not even love for your neighbor can allow “perversion of justice.” Justice and charity must remain distinct—not just separate, but in some ways opposite polarities.
The importance of this distinction particularly concerned the great Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Ytizchaki, 1040-1105), considered the most authoritative expositor of millennia-old oral traditions on the Biblical text. More than 900 years ago, Rashi addressed the verse in question and faced the puzzle of why the Bible forbids bias on behalf of the poor even before it forbids favoritism for the rich. “You shall not say, ‘This man is poor, and the rich man is obliged to support him,” the eminent Rabbi wrote. A judge is strictly prohibited from saying “I shall favor the poor man in this suit, and thus he will make a respectable living.” As a 20th Century rabbi (Nosson Scherman) succinctly summarized the point: “The Torah insists that justice be rendered honestly; charity may not interfere with it.”
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