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Ki Teitzei

Dvar Torah: Ki Teitzei:  Cultivating A Society of Enough

Tyler Dratch, Hebrew College Rabbinical Student,   CY 2018-2019

An image of bare grocery store shelves is sticking in my mind as I reflect back on the rapid global shutdown back in March. Humans are driven by a variety of worries, but perhaps our fear of scarcity drives our behavior more than anything else. We worry about not having enough resources to survive despite our stocked refrigerators and closets full of clothing. Even living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with resources to nourish myself many times over, I too engaged in the dash to the store in those early days. Sure, I would not be able to control the coronavirus, but I would have enough canned soups for an indefinite lock down.
Parashah Ki Teitzei, legislates against this deep desire for hoarding:   When you enter another’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel. When you enter another’s field of standing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand; 
but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain (Deuteronomy 23:25-26).
The text outlines parameters for an on-the-job meal stipend. A person who is working a full day in the field has a right to eat from the food they are harvesting without it being deducted from their wages. Employers have an obligation to feed their workers while they are on the job, and the Mishnah even suggests that a worker may eat an amount of food equivalent or exceeding their entire wage! At the same time, simply working in a field does not give a worker the right to hoard property. Taking home food to eat outside of work hours no longer falls under the employer’s obligation.
The Torah challenges notions of scarcity in two meaningful ways. First, In the just biblical society, all workers will have enough to sustain themselves. Because of this obligation though, an employer may not want to feed their laborers, concerned that the food allowance will undercut their bottom line. The text makes clear that hiring others comes with a responsibility for their welfare and suggests that when laborers and employers treat each other justly, both parties will come out of the interaction whole.
Laborers also have a justified fear of scarcity, so the permission does not give the laborer free reign over the field. Laborers are only permitted to eat as much as they need for that day working in the field. The commandment is reminiscent of the restriction God places on the Israelites regarding the manna, telling the Israelites to gather as much as they would need to eat for that day, but to not keep any overnight. In a just Biblical society, you will be cared for, but you will not be able to stockpile resources.
The laborer and employer have a mutual responsibility to each other to ensure both are supported. In our world, where conviction in the promises of institutions and each other is declining at a rapid rate, the Torah asks us to fight the urge the cheat and cultivate trust.
Each of us are confronted with moments of “not enough”. A “not enough” moment might happen at the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic, but it also might feel like not having enough success at work, not having enough friends, not having enough time. The Torah teaches that it is in these moments of fear that we re-center ourselves. We have enough.  We are enough.
This Shabbat, may we notice the fear of scarcity that rests in all of us, and recommit to building societies of trust where all in society have enough sweet grapes and hearty grain to thrive.
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