Free translation from a talk of the Rebbe, 11 Nissan, 5741 (1981), (excerpt)

“Be vigilant with the children of the poor”

In the past it has been argued that poverty is the root of all crime; it embitters the person, which, in turn, leads to feelings of revenge.

This is incorrect for several reasons: First of all, it contradicts the Talmud’s teaching to the contrary: “Be vigilant with the children of the poor, for they will achieve Torah scholarship” – precisely because they are poor.

This carries over into the world in general: When the children of the poor receive a proper education, the fact that they are financially disadvantaged, on a lower level of the economic ladder relative to their peers, motivates them to strive and exert themselves even more, to do even better in all matters of kindness and compassion, outshining those who are not poor, those from a middle class or an affluent background.

For Jews, this is expressed first and foremost in the obligation to treat the children of the poor with extra care, because “Torah comes forth from them,” more than from the children of the rich.

The same principle applies to all nations of the world: When a person grows up in poverty, under normal conditions his conduct will differ from those around him, it will cause him to exert more of his energy – and enlist others to help him – not to descend into immorality. But more so, he strives to stand above it and reach true heights to prove that, notwithstanding the distractions of poverty, he overcame them, and achieved greater, higher, and farther-reaching accomplishments than those of his wealthy peers.

Affluence and purposeless education breeds entitlement

In fact, we see: The one who attempted the assassination did not grow up in poverty. To the contrary, he was raised amidst affluence. In the words of the verse: “His father never scolded him,” and apparently he was denied nothing. So lest it be argued that poverty is the root of crime, this incident makes clear that the root-cause of bad behavior cannot be traced to poverty, but something else.

Where can we find the cause? The present case [of John Hinckley Jr. who had attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan just week earlier] points us toward education.

First of all, “his father never scolded him.” Secondly, he was not instilled with faith: A simple faith in the existence of the Creator and Master of the universe, Who watches every individual, which negates the notion that life is a free-for-all in which one need only be smart enough – I won’t say wise, because it’s foolishness – to utilize one’s opportunities in order to inflict harm upon someone else, and in the process, inflict greater harm upon oneself than the other. This is because the other person is harmed physically, while the perpetrator harms himself both physically and spiritually, in this world and the World to Come.

When education is viewed only as an accumulation of knowledge, and as long as one accumulates knowledge, he is “educated” – the perpetrator may have excelled in his studies, or perhaps he didn’t excel, so he added to his array of knowledge the skill of handling arms. He even mastered the subject.

His accumulation of knowledge was not connected to a purpose – the ideal purpose being, to bring true good to oneself and one’s surroundings; rather the goal is to prove that “I am the only one that matters,” and therefore, “Why should I consider another person, never mind obey someone else?” And he was raised according to the philosophy of liberalism, that one may not interfere in a child’s life, he must be allowed to act as he wishes. As to the verse, “Man is born a wild donkey,” the argument goes, “If G‑d created him that way, it’s no business of his father and mother to guide him.” They allow him to ‘pasture’ and behave as he sees fit.