A friend sadly described his mid-twenties son to me. “He’s taken one college course after another and now he’s dropped out of school.” “What’s he doing this summer?” I inquired. The answer amazed me. My friend was paying for his son to spend the summer counting birds on a Costa Rican nature preserve! “What can I do to help my son get on track for life?” he asked.
I’m sure you know the answer. Maybe my friend also knew it, but it is hard when it is your own family. I taught him how to gently but firmly withdraw almost all financial support. This would help his son acquire self-respect through financial achievement and independence.
As regular Thought Tool readers have learned, the Five Books of Moses are divided into 54 portions or sedras, each with its own name and theme. Which one would you guess contains the most frequent usage of the word ‘bread’?
Would it perhaps be Bo, the third sedra in the Book of Exodus, containing extensive instructions about eating unleavened ‘bread’ or matzoh on Passover? Wrong!
How about Beshalach? The fourth sedra in Exodus describing ‘bread from heaven’ or Manna contains many references to bread. Wrong again.
Terumah, the seventh sedra of Exodus, mentions bread several times in the context of the Tabernacle table upon which the bread was displayed. It too is not the correct guess.
It turns out that Emor, the eighth sedra in the Book of Leviticus contains no fewer than fourteen mentions of bread, making it an easy winner. Yet the theme of this sedra seems to have little to do with bread. It is chiefly about developing and maintaining closeness to God; first by means of purity (Leviticus 21 & 22), then festivals (Leviticus 23), and finally by rule of law (Leviticus 24).
To understand why bread is so central to maintaining closeness to God, we need to remember what bread means in Scripture.
He who works his land will have enough bread…
In Scripture “bread” means money just as it does in colloquial slang: “Got any bread?” “Can you lend me some dough?”
Similarly, ‘field’ means the work you do to obtain your bread. To this day, when inquiring about professional activity, people ask one another, “What field are you in?”
Prepare externally your work, and make it fit for yourself in the field;
afterwards build your house.
Acquire from outside yourself a means to earn a living. In other words, find out what people around you need that you can supply. Once your field is producing, get married (build your house).
A lightweight who can afford servants is better
than one who honors himself but lacks bread
This is amazing! It’s better to have enough bread to pay for the services you need in life and be considered a lightweight by some, rather than thinking a great deal of yourself but being poor. My friend’s son fancies himself, but what he really needs is a dose of reality. Making your own bread can really help.
Again and again in the Bible, the word bread plugs us into reality. Bread/money reminds us to keep our feet on the ground. Unless you are in the fraud and robbery business, making money means you are serving other people as well as helping yourself.
Regardless of what drives you, forgetting finances is sheer folly. My friend enabled his son to bounce from one interest to another while ignoring the role of money. By repeatedly mentioning bread, Emor teaches that even if you are deeply dedicated to getting close to God, you still have to remain rooted in reality.
So often, in their passion for God and His Word, rabbis and pastors overlook financial realities. Even Faith is not a justification for stressful poverty. God does not want His children to make their love for Him a refuge from reality.
Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes how studying Scripture connects us to timeless truths such as money’s role. For a repeatable super dose of how the world REALLY works, make our powerful resource Genesis Journeys, now on sale, a regular part of your life and that of your friends.
Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.
Hello Rabbi and Susan,
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For a number of reasons Thought Tools and Susan’s Musing posted 24 hours behind schedule this week. Why am I mentioning this? In addition to apologizing for being late, I thought that what occurred provided an apt introduction for what I had planned to write concerning Anne-Marie Slaughter’s lament, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All… READ MORE