I have endeavored to maintain a vegan lifestyle for close to 20 years. In reality, however, every time we spend a penny, anywhere, we are relinquishing control of the ethical direction of our money. We could never know for certain that the profits will not inevitably be directed towards an atrocious act. Taxes on profit will certainly buy bullets, fund factory farming, etc. We're all aware of the unpleasant consequences of irresponsible industry coupled with irresponsible consumerism.

I want to live my life without causing any suffering at all. Are you aware of any totally self-sustained collectives that do not contribute to the suffering of others at all? This sort of isolated lifestyle seems ideal for truly compassionate living.


Some years ago, I volunteered to head a certain community program. Thank G‑d, hundreds of families were directly helped by our activities. But despite the overall success of the project, there were a few individuals who were upset by some details of the operation. It was those three angry letters - not the three hundred thank-yous - that stood out in my mind. I remember telling myself that in the future, I'd think twice before doing this sort of thing again.

I shared these thoughts with a mentor of mine. I'll always remember his wise response. "In life, the only way to never upset anyone is to do nothing." Those few words had a strong impact on me. Of course, we must be careful not to hurt anyone. But that should never get in the way of helping others.

Is there such a thing as a life that never, even indirectly, causes any suffering to others? Is it possible to live in the isolated setting you write about, never aiding anyone who does not suit your ideals?

Perhaps. But what would define that as a "truly compassionate life?" You wouldn't hurt anyone, true, but neither would you help too many either.

We were created to make this world a better place - not just to avoid making things worse. Our souls didn't have to come down here if the goal was to "not cause pain to anyone." That was better accomplished by not being born at all. Rather, our souls are charged with a mission to create a kinder, holier world.

That takes action. It takes interacting with others. It takes giving.

Might my purchase of healthy food support a supplier who maltreats his laborers? By buying a bicycle so I can get to work with a minimal environmental footprint will I indirectly reward a supplier who builds weapons and armaments? Might the tax be used to fund a government project I consider wasteful or polluting?

Perhaps. But I'm willing to risk those sorts of things. For I also know that the food I buy will directly result in guests eating at my Shabbat table. The support I give the store will help countless employees pay rent. The smile I give the nervous-looking shopper, the favor I do to the old lady by carrying her bags to the car, the coin I drop into the beggar's cup outside the store...they are why I am here.

Of course, we should not support those causes that openly contradict our values. But when in doubt, I prefer to err on the side of helping and contributing.