One Minute Torah – B’chukotai 5779

This week’s One Minute Torah is from the archives. Our family lived in Jerusalem in 2010-11. I had the blissful experience of studying at the […]

This week’s One Minute Torah is from the archives.

Our family lived in Jerusalem in 2010-11. I had the blissful experience of studying at the Conservative Yeshiva full time. My husband was working at the Weizmann Institute, one of the top five places world-wide in his area of physics. Our daughter was enrolled in a local kindergarten, a nurturing one-room school run by the municipality. Our son went from the calm of a suburban Jewish Day School here in California to the chaos of an urban public school, and that was a shocker.

Eventually we had to pull him out.  A lot wasn’t good about his situation, but it was one student in particular that forced the decision. A boy named Ido, the biggest kid in the class (had he been left behind a grade?), frequently shouting out and getting yelled at by the teacher, mid-way through the year chose our son as a target. He would taunt him with words, and sometimes more than words.

Before giving up on the school, I began visiting the classroom regularly. One day I was there at lunch time, and I noticed that Ido wasn’t eating. “My mother is bringing my lunch later,” he announced for anyone who cared to listen. Ido disappeared from the classroom a little before I left. As I was walking out of the building, I saw him in the front office sifting through a large bag of sandwiches to find one he liked. A teacher saw me watching and explained, “The Leket Israel delivery was late today.” Leket Israel is a food-salvage non-profit, similar to our local Second Harvest.

This week we read B’chukotai. The second half of this parshah describes a cursed society. “Ten women will bake bread in one oven,” for scarcity of flour and fuel (26:26).  Enemies will chase you, real and imagined, until you become so paranoid that you flee from the “sound of a tossed leaf” (26:36). Hunger and fear seem to have marked Ido’s life.

The first half of B’chukotai describes a blessed world, much more familiar to me personally. “I will place peace in the land. You shall lie down without fear” (26:6). Once in the sleep-deprived days of having a newborn, we accidentally left our front door wide open the entire night.  When I discovered it the next morning, I said a quick prayer of thanks for our safe neighborhood.

Food will be so abundant that “You will remove old (food), to make way for the new,” (26:10), or because it’s past its expiration date. And I cut out the mushy parts of my kids’ fruits, and yesterday I finally tossed that health cereal that seemed a good idea when I was in the store but no one actually liked.

It almost we seems we are living in the Torah’s utopia. Then I think of Ido, ashamed because his mother did not have the resources to pack him a lunch. Ido lives in Jerusalem, but far too many people do not have enough to eat right here in Santa Clara and San Mateo, with all the wealth of Silicon Valley glittering around us. And if I lived in some of the harsher neighborhoods of Oakland and accidentally left my door open all night, there would be nothing casual about my prayers the next morning.

The Torah’s vision of collective reward and punishment is uncomfortable not because of the simplicity of the theology, but because of its truth. We are in this together. When I have so much food I can’t fit it in my fridge, and my housekeeper’s children don’t have enough to eat, we are not a society at peace. We are out of balance, and we feel as if we could tip.

The natural reaction when we are afraid is to hold on tighter to what we have. The Torah tells us to do the opposite. Trust. Taking the long view of history, and the broad view of the planet, whatever hardships we are facing as individuals our lives are very good. We are not in that blessed state described at the beginning of the parshah, but we are a long way from the cursed state described at the end. And each time we give to an organization like Leket Israel or Second Harvest, or to an individual in need, we shift the balance toward blessing.