Friday, August 31, 2007

Parsha from The AFL-CIO

I have been doing this blog for nearly 8 months. I am always surprising myself by the source of inspiration (and the things I "lift") for my blog. That being said, I never thought that I would find souch a great D'var Torah for this Shabbat before Labor Day from The American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations. It was written by Brian Fink a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
The challah cover is the work of Malka Dubrawsky.
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך
העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, the One who brings forth
bread from the earth.This blessing, the “motzi”, the prayer that one says over bread at the beginning of a meal, is one of the most widely known prayers within the Jewish tradition. Every time we eat, and especially during Shabbat and other holidays, we are reminded of the ultimate source of our food. We bless God, the One who brings forth bread from the earth.It is very easy to take this prayer for granted, and/or ascribe this “bringing forth of bread from the earth” entirely to God. But then, when we start to think about it, it is wheat –
and not bread – that is the naturally cultivated product. Why then do we say a prayer of thanks directed towards the “One who brings forth bread?”
Zooming in, there are many steps involved in the “bringing forth of bread from the
earth.” Farmers plant the wheat, tend the crops and then harvest their produce. Once
harvested, threshing (beating the stalks, in order to remove the seeds or grains from the stalk) and winnowing (separating the fallen usable seeds from the fallen unusable chaff) needs to take place before the grain can be ground into flour. The flour is mixed with water and a leavening agent, forming dough, which is kneaded, and then finally baked. It is only after all of these steps that bread has actually come forth from the earth. By giving thanks for bread, the finished product, and not wheat, the raw ingredient, we recognize the partnership that exists between God and humanity in creating the bread that sustains us.
In the beginning of the Torah portion, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8), which is read during the Shabbat of Labor Day weekend, we encounter a description of the First Fruits Ceremony, a biblical rite that sanctifies the divine-human partnership necessary for crops to flourish.
Each year, every farmer takes a representative sample of his “first fruits of the soil” up to the priest serving at the Temple in Jerusalem. At the Temple, the farmer recites a formula, recognizing God’s role in his successful yield and acknowledging the factors beyond his control that contributed to the success of his harvest.
However, at the same time that God’s role is highlighted in the recitation, it is the actual farmer, the specific person who tended these crops to maturity, who is required to take these first fruits up to the priest. In Deuteronomy 26:2, he is specified as the one who:
מראשית כל פרי האדמה אשר תביא מארצך אשר יהוה אלהיך נתן לך ולקחת
“… brought them forth from your land, which the Lord your God gave to you.”
As this phrase uses similar language to what would later find its way into the Motzi, I
would argue that in addition to the farmer giving thanks to God, this ceremony also
allows the community to thank and recognize the farmer for his role in contributing to the sustenance of the people.
Psalm 104:14 takes this concept a step further. Here, the psalmist describes God as the one who:
הארץ.-מן לחם,להוציא ;האדםועשב, לעבדת חציר, לבהמה,מצמיח
“… makes the grass grow for the cattle, and herbage for man’s labor; bringing
forth bread from the earth.”
In this psalm, God’s making the grass grow, combined with man’s labor, makes it
possible for bread to be brought forth from the earth.
On this Labor Day, and at every meal for which we recite the Motzi, may we remember
that it is only through the interplay between God and humanity that our food is able to come forth from the earth and arrive on our table. May we always remember to give
thanks. May we continue to strive toward a world in which all our labors are valued, especially the labors of those who contribute toward our food; from the farm-workers to the checkout clerks in the grocery store and everyone in-between. May we receive a living wage, treating each other with justice, human dignity and respect.
Shabbat Shalom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This Labor Day Op Ed by a colleague of mine might be of interest.
>> Arieh Lebowitz
>> Communications Director
>> Jewish Labor Committee


Unions and Labor Day" by David Dolev, The Jewish Advocage.

Many of us remember hearing stories of our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents moving to America and struggling to “make it” in the new country. Some may have been small business owners while others were rank and file workers, but common to all was the struggle to sustain themselves and their families. Many suffered in sweatshops and developed the mutual support system called the U.S. trade union movement.
The imperative of supporting one another in economic struggles was not new to them. One of our foremost scholars, the Rambam, states that the highest level of charity is “entering into a partnership with one in need, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.”
Remembering their own struggle, our parents and grandparents passed on to us the commitment to help others in need. That is what unions are all about – supporting the basic right of individuals to a fair salary, benefits, workers safety, and the ability to raise him/herself to a better life. This is why so many in the Jewish community are supporting the 10,000 janitors in Greater Boston whose contracts are expiring on Aug. 31. Many are working two or three jobs a day and still not able to make ends meet. They need our help to secure a living wage, health insurance, and a life with dignity.
The most recent workers rights campaign, “Hotel Workers Rising,” was also strongly supported by many in the Jewish community. This was another struggle of workers for a better life. Many of these workers, as were our parents and grandparents, are minorities and immigrants. Jewish support for the campaign did not go by unnoticed in the labor movement. The president of the local hotel workers union wrote a personal letter to the Jewish Labor Committee – “on behalf of thousands of hotel workers, their families and the elected leadership of UNITE HERE Local 26. We will never forget the friendship and solidarity you extended to our union during this contract struggle.” Similar sentiments, recognizing the Jewish community’s support, have been expressed by union leadership and members – security guards, janitors, healthcare workers, and members of the building trades.
The Torah also tells us, “When your brother falls and his hand declines with you, strengthen him, whether the stranger or the resident, that he may live with you” (Leviticus 25:35). Rashi explains that the expression to “strengthen” or “support” him means not to wait until he actually falls (financial collapse) but rather to empower him beforehand so that he shouldn’t fall in the first place.
Let us remember all of these things on Labor Day. The next time we need to build an addition to our synagogue or hire a janitor for our institution make sure that those we hire receive fair wages and benefits. In that way we can use our economic capacity to empower workers, support real social change, and fulfill our Judaic legacy.

David Dolev, director the New England Jewish Labor Committee, can be reached at