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Thursday 10th April 2014

Whom do we want? A look at the job pages in The Times  - advertising some of the most lucrative positions in the country – reveals what you need to be needed... 

...With a strong academic background and at least four years experience in a blue chip organisation, you will demonstrate the drive, ambition and energy to succeed in a dynamic consulting environment. 

...You will have a good first degree... You will have developed incisive analytical skills... Candidates should have the commitment, initiative and drive to succeed in a fast moving and pressurised investment banking environment... 

... We seek candidates with strong leadership and management experience, who combine a robust project management ability and an able business mind, with experience of the successful management of change... 

Mature, energetic and enthusiastic, you will be of graduate calibre... A proven professional with at least five years’ experience in a senior management role, you will welcome the opportunity to make a serious contribution... 

... and so on. 

The job market is, not to put too fine a point on it, a jungle. If you’re tough, intelligent, dynamic and established, nothing can hold you back. But what if you’re not? 

That same copy of The Times carried a front-page article about refugees begging on the streets of London. A judge was reported as having threatened the miscreants with prison if they continued to harass passers-by. 

One suspects that there may be a social sub-text to this incident: the poor  - especially beggars who have nothing to contribute to society, who are not ruthless conquerors in the cut-throat business world of management, IT and the free market economy - are not welcome. This, of course, makes perfect sense from a business point of view. If every company’s profit margin was squeezed by a dead-weight of “deserving courses” which sucked out its financial life-blood and offered nothing in return, the results would be dire. There would be no incentive to work, and the economy would grind to a halt. Productivity would slump, unemployment would soar, and poverty would become widespread. 

But the Jewish view of the poor is radically different. We learn about how they should be viewed from a detail in the laws of the Pesach (Passover) Lamb (Exodus, chapter 12). This was the first commandment that the Jewish people observed as a nation, and we might expect this law to set the tone for Jewish society. 

One of the rules concerning the sacrifice is that one may not leave any of the lamb over to eat on the following day. For each household, a lamb must be slaughtered on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan and eaten before the morning of the fifteenth of Nissan. 

The Torah (ibid., verse 4) anticipates a problem that may arise from this rule What if there are not enough people in a particular household to finish off the whole lamb? How could one or two people be expected to finish off the whole thing by morning? The Torah responds to this by recommending that one persuade some other people to join one’s group for the purposes of the sacrifice, and they can help to finish it. 

Is this not obvious? Why must God spell this out for us in so much detail? 

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains what is going on here. He remarks that, if every household is supposed to get its own lamb, the only people who might be free to join another group are those who are too poor to buy their own lamb. The first time we encounter poor people, they are presented to us in a context where we need them. 

This is supposed to teach us for all time how to think about poor people. Without the poor, we would have no opportunity to give charity, and our money – like the leftover Pesach lamb – would be something which would be difficult to consume in a meaningful way. 

This affords us with a whole new view of society. It is precisely society’s “drop-outs” who are the most valuable. Without them, everyone would stifle in a morass of pointless consumption. A beggar is not a parasite and a liability, but a heaven-sent opportunity to do something meaningful with our portion of the material world.

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