Pushing the Blanket

On Tuesday, Morristown Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard made preliminary rulings against 18-year-old high-school senior Rachel Canning.

Canning had left her family home after a falling-out with her parents and was asking the court to compel them to continue to support her. She asked that they pay for her tuition, legal fees and around two-and-a-half thousand dollars a month in child support. Her parents argued that she left after refusing to comply with the rules they set and had to take responsibility for her actions.

Let’s be clear. The reason this story is newsworthy is not because of the issues it raises regarding what legal obligations a parent has to a child. It also is not because of the details of this particular case, and the relationship between the Cannings and their eldest daughter.

It is because a child actually sued her parents for things she felt she was, to quote her lawyer, “entitled to.”

But it shouldn’t really be surprising.

Late this past October, the Census Bureau released data that showed that in the end of 2011, over 49 percent of Americans were receiving benefits from one or more government programs. While the social safety net serves an important purpose in helping those who, despite their best efforts, need some help, it has grown to the point where it does far more than just that. It creates a culture of dependency, and from that can come a sense of entitlement.

The Torah ideal, however, is not to be someone who takes; it is to be someone who gives. The Alter fun Slabodka explains why Avraham Avinu toiled to invite guests into his home despite the fact that he was weak from his bris milah. By giving to others to the degree of complete selflessness, Avraham was able to emulate Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s middah of chessed.

When the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, was at a meeting with the Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, what the Rosh Yeshivah said had such a profound impact on him that he wrote an article about it. Schultz recorded how Harav Finkel explained to the group what he said was the lesson of the Holocaust:

“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?”

And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”

And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Nobody goes through life without getting anything from anyone else. Even the Kedoshim Harav Finkel referenced were dependent on each other. The question is what we focus on doing. Our primary focus defines who, in essence, we are — whether we are “givers” or “takers.”

To be sure, there are many different ways one can give. A parent raises a child and cares for every one of its needs from birth through adulthood. But a child — who is the recipient of what is largely seen as unreciprocated benefaction — can give to the parent as well. What does any parent desire more than getting nachas from his or her child?

When each party is focused on “pushing the blanket” on the other, everyone feels like they are completely covered. It is only with that kind of focus that either person will get anything out of the relationship. But if everyone feels “entitled” to the same blanket, they will fight over it.

And then nobody wins.