J.J Gross

Parshat Behukotai: When too much is not enough – the times in which we live

Parshat Behukotai closes Vayikra/Leviticus with a litany of the terrors God 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 whit:

בשִׁבְרִ֣י לָכֶם֘ מַטֵּה־לֶ֒חֶם֒ וְ֠אָפ֠וּ עֶ֣שֶׂר נָשִׁ֤ים לַחְמְכֶם֙ בְּתַנּ֣וּר אֶחָ֔ד וְהֵשִׁ֥יבוּ לַחְמְכֶ֖ם בַּמִּשְׁקָ֑ל וַֽאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם וְלֹ֥א תִשְׂבָּֽעוּ:

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.

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 …(26:16-25) a bread shortage does seem a bit . . . anticlimactic.

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

“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 sated.”

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 cannot 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 truly 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 settle for less in order to achieve some balance and coherence, we up the ante and strive to get even “more, more more”.

Such are the times in which we live. Our bakeries produce ten times as many breads as we need. We have more toys and gadgets than we can possibly use. There are three Lexuses in the driveway. Pessah has become Fressah – an 8 day food orgy at a five star resort – and all we want is even more. Yes, we are indeed in BIG trouble. Because we can’t even put our finger on the problem. We actually think this is normal! And our children grow up with a bottomless sense of entitlement that allows no room for natural ambitions, nurturing of creativity, genuine fulfillment, and meaningful vocations rather than meaningless vacations.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that this verse is 26:26. Twenty-six is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of God’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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