Hand in Hand, and more

Shul can be a very relaxing, even soporific experience and so it happened, once upon a time, that Joe-Shmo was a little sleepy during the Torah reading. He woke up just to hear the reader chant the words: “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes thereof… and you shall place them in two rows, six in a row, upon the pure table before G-d” (Leviticus 24:5-6). Inspired, he felt as if G-d himself spoke to him. The next day, he baked 12 loaves of challah, and brought them to shul. Quietly, making sure no one sees him, he placed the loaves in the ark, asking G-d to accept his gift as if this was the Temple.
No sooner did he leave, the shul’s janitor walked in to do his daily duties. Whipping his sweat, he approached the ark. He looked up, making sure no one sees him, and sat down for a moment. “Dear G-d,” he said, “thank you for giving me even this job, but please, my wife and children are still hungry at home. I need your help. Please, send me something.” He then opened the ark to clean it as usual, and you can imagine his surprise to see twelve freshly baked breads. Who could this bread be for?? G-d doesn’t eat bread, and he himself has a hungry family at home! Surely, this is for him! He took the loaves and went happily on his way.
The next morning, Joe-shmo came back for minyan a little early. He wanted to check up on his offer and see if it was accepted. He opened the ark, and was amazed and happy to see that is gift was accepted! He rushed home to bake another set of loaves and take them back to shul.
This went on for a while.
But one day, as life – and stories – go, the two happened to run into each other. Disappointed they looked at each other: ‘You?? I thought it was G-d Himself who accepted my gift!’ ‘You?? I thought G-d Himself was feeding my family!’ The rabbi who also happened to be there, listened to both, then said – -d: Your hands are the hands of G-d doing what needs to be done in the world.
I’ve heard this story many years ago from Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi, and every year when Parashat Emor rolls around, where this verse appears, I love to remember and retell it; I hear Reb Zalman’s rusty, deep voice in this: Your hands are the hands of G-d doing what needs to be done in the world. I hear in it the same message of “flow” modern psychologists speak of; the “satvic” energy of Yoga teachings and the Torah. Yet as I write the story again, I can’t help but wonder: Everybody’s hands? Everything we do? Only our very best or that too??
* * * * * * *
At the end of this week’s reading we’re told about a fight between two Israelites. It’s a strange incident because of the details told: One is described as a son of an Israelite woman – whose name is given – and an Egyptian father and the other, an Israelite. The former ends up – possibly – cursing the other, using G-d’s name in some way: either cursing G-d Himself or aiming to hurt his fellow by invoking a curse. Initially the community does not know what to do with him but then they are told to stone him to death. There are a number of ways to try and understand this, but a question still remains: when we punish someone, what and who drive our action? School is a place to consider this question often, and wonder: is it the well-being of the child? The well-being of the community? The well-being of the teacher or leader? In the end, the result might be the same, but I believe the motivation will have an impact.
* * * * * * *
If you need one chapter to find all Biblical holidays, you’ve come to the right parasha: Leviticus 23 has them all, including Shabbat, and the count of the Omer is mentioned in this week’s reading too. As it’s been said, we count each day, because each day counts. That one too.
Shabbat Shalom.

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One Response to Hand in Hand, and more

  1. neskama says:

    I so love the story of the 12 loaves….thanks for retelling….and I did not know you knew Reb Zalman…memories of oh so long ago in Berkeley with Reb Zalman and Reb Shlomo, .and loving both, but mostly a follower of Shlomo. Thanks for the post.

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