Saturday, July 02, 2022

No claim is being made or intended herein that the Daf Yomi is directly even addressing the issue of inflation that is clearly the top concern of most Americans. Certainly no claim is being made or intended here that the Daf Yomi of a few days ago, or of any day, proposes a direct solution to the problem.

Rather, a claim is most certainly being made here that the Talmud, at a point in time so many centuries ago, was sensitive to the problem of prohibitive expenses, and took it for granted that they should not be borne, not by anyone alive at that time and not by anyone destined to be born in the future.

Page 106a of Yevamot, studied all over the world a couple of days ago, describes a person running for his freedom, reaching a river and offering a ferry driver an exorbitant sum to get him out of harm’s way.

The baraita cited in the Talmud rules that despite this commitment, the ferry operator is entitled to nothing other than his usual fee. And the Talmud is sensitive to the cost of living in this case, and, of course, the cost of saving a life itself.

Actually, the Talmud is even more sensitive than that, since in the example given, the person running for his life was escaping from prison, and imprisonment, of course, has been compared to death. So the Talmud shows sensitivity even to people who may be serving a life sentence. How much more so is the Talmud (as well as our rabbis and leaders) sensitive to the expenses of ordinary people, although it is very possible that the escaping prisoner referred to in the Talmud had been imprisoned without just cause and without due process of law, a strong possibility in Talmudic times, as it remains in many countries even today, and to some extent even in the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave.”

Fast forward to today. Excessive costs extend to transportation today more than ever before, but the record gas prices affect not merely the costs of crossing a river one time, but the cost of driving from one place to another, one street to another, one state to another or one country to another, whether or not a car is loaded onto a ferry to get across a body of water.

In the case cited in the Talmud, the person incurring the costs was caught in a crisis not necessarily of his own doing.

Every American is now caught in a crisis of inflation not of our own doing—or is it?

Clearly, this crisis facing everyone in our until-recently energy independent country is suffering from an unforced error in judgment—or a combination of such errors—compounded, of course, by global factors beyond our control.

Clearly, some people are responsible, in large measure, for the root causes of the inflation that is now causing so much hardship to most Americans. This is not the time or the place —actually, it IS the time—to debate who is at fault for the root causes of the current inflation. But every forum provides everyone with an opportunity to encourage anyone with any influence to apply pressure on whoever we believe is at fault, to cast aside pride and politics, to do what is necessary to reduce or eliminate the causes of the current unsustainable levels of inflation so that we will all be able to “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till [we] find [our] dream[s],” or at least have the opportunity, once again, to live our lives in our communities with a fighting chance to meet our expenses and to have enough money left over to lead meaningful lives as Jews and as Americans.

Rabbi Reichel participated in the latest editions of the biographies of his ancestors Harry Fischel and Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein and his uncle Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, all of whom lived through adversity and inflation, and whose lives inspired and continue to inspire generations in making the most of the significant resources they acquired.

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