Yesterday in the supermarket I met a couple who are friends of mine. Before Shavuot there's nothing more trivial than lining up, shopping cart-to-shopping cart, alongside the cheeses in the dairy counter where masses of people gather, as if the country’s milk supply is on the verge of eradication.
That’s how it happened that I met the couple, who quickly popped 5 percent fat cheese into a bag and hurried to get away. For a moment I thought that this was the normal panic from the herd of culinary enthusiasts surrounding the area, but another look at the cart they were quickly pushing away made it clear that I was mistaken.
In stark contrast to the overflowing carts around us, this couple’s cart contained only a few basic necessities poorly wrapped, curled up in the corner of the cart. Personal acquaintance, perhaps a sixth sense, told me that this was not a last shopping run to get a few extras before the holiday.
I didn’t want them to feel bad so I kept my distance, stood alongside the freezer case, discovering what I and many others have not seen or not wanted to see. The couple in a hurry were not the only ones pushing half-empty shopping carts. Near the refrigerator case there were several other lightly-populated carts, their common denominator being that those who were pushing them were young strictly Orthodox couples.
On the eve of Shavuot 5767, studying Torah as a way of life has become a constant challenge. The third generation of those reconstructing the lost Torah world of Europe live from the crumbs that housewives gently spread on the cheesecake. The burden on their young shoulders has become intolerable. Generation after generation of Torah study has enriched the Jewish spirit immeasurably, but has left the cupboard bare in many homes.
Their financial reserves are nil, and there is no alternative solution on the horizon. Building desert towns in all the holes given priority
by the government will not help with this worsening problem: There is no money, and what there was is gone. Nor is there an answer to where the boundary is between cutting back and spending modestly, and poverty and destitution. No one will dare to take it upon himself to say these difficult words: “You can’t continue like that.” In the meantime, everyone else continues to bear the burden.
So you constantly hear shocking stories about people who kept it a secret and didn’t say a word, they didn’t want any favors, they lived off what they had and less—until they couldn’t do it any longer. The “extra” aspirin given to the neighbor across the way with the clear knowledge that there is no money to buy a new bottle. The baskets left by good people next to the door so that the fridge would not stay too empty. The burning shame and humiliating feeling of neediness do not go away, and those who have lost their shame have also lost their Torah and values along the way.
Spiritual climate to deteriorate
The best brains don’t leave just the ivory towers of academia because they were offered something more tempting in the land of endless opportunities. The best brains of the Torah world in Israel cry tears of blood as they close their Gemaras because their child has nothing to eat for breakfast.
During the coming holiday, while we are gorging on a variety of dairy dishes, the reason for this food festival—the Torah, which was like milk—will remain forgotten. How many fans of lasagna will devote the night of the giving of the Torah to study of ancient texts? The Torah is the last preserve of its kind of endless wisdom, our common heritage. All this is likely to vanish and the country’s spiritual climate to deteriorate even further, if that’s at all possible.
There’s no question that on paper the logic of “no one should be funding anyone else” works. Our spiritual leaders are the remnants of a generation that is vanishing. We must ask ourselves where the worthy leaders of the next generation are hiding, and if we’ve missed several of them along the way.
I’m in favor of setting up a committee to preserve the Jewish heritage in the brains of the People of the Book. Together we need to check how we can preserve this joint heritage, which belongs to us all, without anyone feeling discriminated against or suffering for the others.
I want true learners of Torah, not the benchwarmers, to have a shopping cart at least three quarters full. And with all due respect to the festival of flavors offered by the dairy companies, the external elements of the holiday that symbolize the receiving of the Torah don’t need to take center stage.