In Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah wrote, “Im ein kemach, ein Torah. Im ein Torah, ein kemach.” (If there is no food, there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no food.)
This intriguing paradox teaches us that we cannot expect — of ourselves or others — to live a life of study, of good deeds and righteousness, if basic needs have not been met. The distraction of a growling belly makes it harder to learn in school, harder to be patient with others, harder even to distinguish right from wrong. Doctors and educators alike emphasize the positive effects of a healthy breakfast on children’s learning and indeed there are some schools and day cares where a federally-subsidized breakfast is provided to all children who need it. This is beautiful Torah.
What about the second half of Rabbi Elazar’s seeming paradox? If there is no Torah, there is no food. If we phrase it instead in the positive, it is perhaps easier to grasp: where there is Torah, there is food. That is, not only does our Torah provide us with food for thought, it also gives us, let’s say, food for action. When we read every Shabbat about, “the obligations without measure,” i.e. mitzvot whose value cannot be measured, we say, “And the study of Torah is equal to them all because it leads to them all.” To return to the phrase from Pirkei Avot: when we study Torah, it can inspire us to work toward a world where everyone has food.
This, too, is beautiful Torah.
The opportunity is before us right now. For the first time in many years, Temple Ohabei Shalom is participating as a team in the Walk for Hunger, an annual walk to benefit Project Bread’s statewide hunger relief efforts. The Walk takes place on Sunday May 1 and everyone in the community is encouraged to participate — by walking, by donating, or by spreading the word. Please join Rabbi Sonia, Richard Halpern (Team Captain), and a growing list of community members in this important mitzvah. Visit our team page to sign up or donate. It’s a great opportunity to live the beautiful Torah of providing for those in need. Join us!