This portion of Pirkei Avot says many things, but the emphasis on flour and Torah sends a unique message based on recent events which I want to discuss in this Blog.
Before I became aware of the Thomas Cook closure that I wrote about in my previous Blog, I saw the story about a major fire that took place at the headquarters of Greenwald Caterers in Lakewood N.J. on Sunday evening, Sept 22. And I began to think if there was any way to try to piece together two very major stories involving established companies that had been in business for many years.
It appears that although the fire wiped out the kitchen facility at Greenwald headquarters, the company can turn to other facilities in times of need, and it should be able to survive this tragedy.
Originally the headlines read “Lakewood’s Greenwald Caterers Destroyed in Fire”. But later on there was a correction which added the word “Kitchen”.
The name Thomas Cook has always been a well-established company servicing the travel industry, and is best known in Europe, where it was based. But take away the name Thomas, and we have just the word “Cook”.
Now combine that with the fact that based on the original headlines, one would have thought that Greenwald Caterers headquarters were totally destroyed. But by correcting the headlines to include the extra word “Kitchen”, thereby making this word stand out, I have the following observation-
Normally if you put the words Cook and Kitchen together you can easily picture someone standing in the kitchen preparing a meal. But from my personal experience those two words take on a totally different meaning. Because where I grew up, the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, is situated right next to another suburb named Golden Valley; home of a major company with the initials GM, and it’s not General Motors, but rather General Mills.
General Mills is home to such famous cereal brands as Cheerios, Wheaties and Kix to name a few. But for the purpose of this Blog, I will concentrate on another major division known as Betty Crocker. And that’s where Mom comes in, along with those two words Cook and Kitchen.
Way back in the 1960’s when I was a teenager, Mom decided to be bold and apply to be a Recipe Tester at Betty Crocker kitchens, and she was accepted for the job. And of course since there was no Internet, Fax or similar forms of communication, everything was done via mail.
For most women who wanted to become Recipe Testers, it was difficult if you did not live close to General Mills. Because the job involved receiving an envelope with a new recipe, buying the ingredients, preparing it according to the instructions given and then finally filling out a questionnaire based on the opinion of the sample testers – Dad, myself and my brothers.
Once the questionnaire was completed, my parents would hop into our family car and drive to General Mills headquarters to hand in the questionnaire along with the new creation that Mom just made from scratch. A few weeks later, Mom would receive a check in the mail for her efforts. This process was repeated over and over again and it was interesting to be part of the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen crew.
Today, Betty Crocker Test Kitchens has grown to such an extent, that it has become one of the major space occupiers in General Mills headquarters.
And here we must bring in the saying from Pirkei Avot which says – Where there is no flour, there is no Torah; and where there is no Torah there is no flour. In this context, flour means sustenance.
Water – Primary Ingredient To Combine With Flour
But realistically, flour is only edible once it is combined with water. Without water, we cannot digest it, and therefore even though we refer to flour as sustenance, it needs water to do that. So this is one example of water being needed; to accompany flour, and together they are easily able to sustain a human being.
So now we have the combination of flour and water which was responsible for the founding of the flour milling industry in Minneapolis.
Water – Used To Power Flour Mills
The Founding Of General Mills and Pillsbury
General Mills and Pillsbury – How they all began –with water power from the Mississippi
So the amazing thing is that it was the force of water that helped to found General Mills and Pillsbury (best remembered for its doughboy named Poppin Fresh).
General Mills – History from Wikipedia
The company can trace its history to the Minneapolis Milling Company, incorporated in 1856. The company was founded by Illinois Congressman Robert Smith, who leased power rights to mills operating along the west side of Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cadwallader C. Washburn acquired the company shortly after its founding and hired his brother William D. Washburn to assist in the company’s development. In 1866 the Washburns got into the business themselves, building the Washburn “B” Mill at the falls. At the time, the building was considered to be so large and output so vast that it could not possibly sustain itself. However, the company succeeded, and in 1874 he built the even bigger Washburn “A” Mill.
In 1877, the mill entered a partnership with John Crosby to form the Washburn-Crosby Company, producing Winter Wheat Flour. That same year Washburn sent William Hood Dunwoody to England to open the market for spring wheat. Dunwoody was successful and became a silent partner.
In 1878, the “A” mill was destroyed in a flour dust explosion along with five nearby buildings. The ensuing fire led to the death of 18 workers. Construction of a new mill began immediately. Not only was the new mill safer but it also was able to produce a higher quality flour after the old grinding stones were replaced with automatic steel rollers, the first ever used.
Recent history 
In 1990, a joint venture with Nestlé S.A. called Cereal Partners was formed which markets cereals (including many existing General Mills cereal brands) outside the US and Canada under the Nestlé name. This partnership is most likely responsible for the General Mills cereal brands you see today in Israel.
Engineering milestones 
- 1930s: General Mills engineer, Thomas R. James, creates the puffing gun, which inflates or distorts cereal pieces into puffed up shapes. This new technology was used in 1937 to create Kix cereal and in 1941 to create Cheerioats (known today as Cheerios).
- 1939: General Mills engineer Helmer Anderson creates the Anderson sealer. This new device allowed for bags of flour to be sealed with glue instead of just being tied with a string.
- 1956: General Mills creates the tear-strip for easily opening packages.
Pillsbury – History
Founding and early development
C.A. Pillsbury and Company was founded in 1872 by Charles Alfred Pillsbury and his uncle John S. Pillsbury. The company was second in the United States (after Washburn-Crosby) to use steel rollers for processing grain. The finished product required transportation, so the Pillsburys assisted in funding railroad development in Minnesota.
In 1889, Pillsbury and its five mills on the banks of the Mississippi River were purchased by a British company. The company also tried to purchase and merge with the Washburn Crosby Company (a precursor of General Mills), but the principals at Washburn prevented the takeover.
In 1923, the Pillsbury family reacquired Pillsbury-Washburn Flour Mills Company, Limited which subsequently was incorporated in 1935 as Pillsbury Flour Mills Company.
When NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter launched into space on Mercury capsule Aurora 7 in 1962, he was carrying with him the first solid space food – small food cubes developed by Pillsbury’s research and development department. Taking Pillsbury scientists more than a year to develop, space food cubes were followed by other space-friendly foods, such as cake that was not crumbly, relish that could be served in slices and meat that needed no refrigeration.
In 1989, the British company Grand Metropolitan (later Diageo) purchased the food maker, and during this ownership period the company divested itself of all production and distribution facilities (contracting these functions to other companies), making itself simply a marketing entity for its own brands (Pillsbury, Green Giant, Old El Paso, Totino’s, etc.)
Water – Used To Extinguish Fire
It was also the fact that without water, those two major fires recently in Adas Israel Shul, Duluth, MN and Greenwald Caterers in Lakewood, NJ, could have spread far and wide. Thereby limiting damage to property.
The Unique Aspect Of These Two Fires-
In this year of what seems to be chaos throughout the world, we even have an example of something very unique that took place with these two fires.
Now, consider these facts and events-
Minneapolis, Minnesota – Home of the first major flour mills
Lakewood, NJ – Home of a major Torah learning center
Duluth, Minnesota – 8 Torah Scrolls Saved, but 6 destroyed by fire
Greenwald Caterers, Lakewood, NJ – Fire destroys Kitchen in headquarters
These are all tragedies, but logic dictates that it should be the other way around-
There are far many more kitchens in Minnesota than there are centers for learning Torah, or for that matter Torah Scrolls. And although I have never been there, I would venture to guess that there are far more Torah Scrolls than major catering kitchens in Lakewood.
And so if G-d forbid something would happen to Torah Scrolls, there would be a higher probability it would happen in Lakewood, NJ, not Duluth, Minnesota.
And since Minnesota is known for its 10, 000 lakes, which in reality is closer to 15,000, then its strange the fire took place in the city of Lakewood, NJ.
It’s difficult to know the meaning of all of these strange happenings.
But one thing is for sure, we know who is running the world and perhaps this coming year, 5780, will be filled with many answers to all the questions we have had.
Wishing all of you a year of bracha, nachas, and shefa.
Chativa V Chasima Tova.