Behukotai: When too much is not enough – the ultimate warning of the tokhekha

In Parshat Behukotai, we are warned about our era, when for so many of us too much is not enough. Indeed a pervasive sense of entitlement results in a perpetual craving for more and more and more; and the inability to distinguish between need and greed.

Behukotai follows on the heels of Parsha Behar in which the Torah acknowledges the validity of human ambition and a normal desire for success, yet places limits on our greed especially through the laws of shemitah and the manner in which we may conduct our affairs.

In Parshat Behukotai, Levitcus concludes with a litany of the horrors G-d will visit upon His people unless they obey His law. And the consequences are horrifying indeed.

As the climax builds with horror heaped upon horror, the list of punishments seems to pause for a moment with the interjection of verse 26:26 which, in the context of this catalog of afflictions, seems rather benign. To wit:

בשברי לכם מטה לחם ואפו עשר נשים לחמכם בתנור אחד
והשיבו לחמכם למשקל ואכלתם ולא תשבעו

When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread
in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight,
and you shall eat and not be satisfied. 
Leviticus 26:26

Of course the absence of sufficient ovens, and a resulting bread shortage are nothing to celebrate. Nevertheless, after panic, wasting disease, fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache, being struck down before one’s enemies, making our heavens like iron and our earth like bronze, letting loose the wild beasts against us, bereaving us of our children, bringing a sword upon us, sending a pestilence among us, and delivering us in the hand of our enemy …(16:25) a bread shortage does seem a bit anticlimactic.

Which is why I would suggest a radical re-reading of verse 26 which would fit perfectly as a literal translation:

For, while the word בשברי can mean “when I break” it can also mean “when I provision food” as when Joseph’s brothers tell him they had come to Egypt לשבור אוכל in order to provision food (Genesis 42:10)

Hence I would read our verse as follows:

“As I provision you with the staff of bread, and ten women will bake
your loaves in a single oven and your bread shall be returned in its (proper) measure, yet you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

 What the Torah is telling us is that there will come a time when a single oven can produce tenfold, i.e. we will have ten times as much as we can possibly eat, and still we will have that empty feeling of want. We will not be satisfied.

This is indeed the worst affliction of all. Why? Because when we are attacked by beasts, or driven from our homes, or put to the sword, or beset by pestilence, or – Heaven forbid – bereft of our children, at least we are conscious of what the problem is. The affliction is objective, quantifiable, it has a name.

But when we have everything we could possibly want – indeed tenfold – and are still constantly hungry for more, perpetually dissatisfied, then we are really in deep trouble. Because we have no clue as to what ails us. We have no comprehension of why we feel so empty. And, indeed, rather than strive for less in order to achieve some balance and coherence, we just up the ante and strive to get even “more, more more”.

Such are the times in which we live. When the bakeries produce 10 times as many breads as we need. When we have more toys and gadgets than we can possibly use. When there are three Lexuses in the driveway, and Passover is a food binge at a five star hotel – and all we want is even more – then we are truly in BIG trouble. Because we can’t even put our finger on the problem. We actually think this is normal! And we are surprised if our children grow up with a bottomless sense of entitlement that allows no room for natural ambitions, genuine fulfillment, meaningful vocations, or the fundamental joy of self-sufficiency.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that this verse is 26:26. Twenty-six is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of G-d’s name Y-H-W-H. This punishment bears the double seal of Divine authorship. And it is a brilliant punishment indeed, because we suffer from it without even understanding why we are suffering.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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