The Hitchhiker

On the highway to Jerusalem today I stopped for a hitchhiker, a man who appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties. It was 6:30 PM, he looked like he’d had a tough day and he almost groaned when I asked him where he was headed. 

“Metulla,” he said, trying not to think about the four-to-five hour journey he had ahead of him to get home, and the story of his tough day came out as we drove with little prodding.

Seems my passenger (we didn’t even get to exchange names) runs a mobile wholesale clothing business. He drove down to Rechovot early this morning to sell clothes out of the back of his car, but he came back from a bathroom break to a nightmare: Car was gone, with it his wallet and mobile phone and he had no money and no food. By the time he got in my car he had hitched from Rechovot, hadn’t eaten all day, and was trying to decide whether he would be better off hitching through Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to get up north. 

The reason I mention it here is that he also lost NIS 40,000 in inventory with the car. While the car was insured, the goods inside weren’t. 

He didn’t say too much else, but the worry on his face led me to imagine that he was worried about a lot more than getting home. NIS 40,000 is a lot of money, and he did not appear to be in a fiscal position that would enable him to recover from such a huge loss, at least not easily. My mind ran wild with unaskable questions: Was he looking at financial ruin? Will he be able to feed his family for Shabbat this week? Will he rely on one of our civil service partners to keep his home afloat? 

My late father once told me he was happy to give charity to people in need, but he felt that too many people chose not to work, preferring to rely on handouts. He had a strong point: A wealthy society such as ours has a responsibility to ensure the basic wellbeing of its weakest members, and to create an economic and a social welfare system in which able-bodied people are encouraged, rather than discouraged, to pursue gainful employment by guaranteeing fair wages, fringe benefits, etc. 

But here’s a man who appears to be a hard worker, with the skills and abilities to build a successful business, who through no fault of his own might be wondering just how he is going to pay the weekly food bill when his kids ask for a special treat for Shabbat this week.

 Something to think about. 

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