As we approach the festival of Shavuot, season of Receiving the Torah (Saturday night-Sunday-Monday June 4-6), it is noteworthy that the Book of Ruth, which is customarily read on this festival, begins with FAMINE.
“And it was in the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land…” (Ruth 1:1)
This makes the book of Ruth (which traces the genealogy of David, King Messiah) particularly timely. For while the world is still reeling from the ravages of Covid, the new plague would seem to be FAMINE.
“Behold, days are coming – declares the Lord GOD – when I shall send hunger in the land: not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8 11).
“They will yearn for prophecy but they will not find it, because prophecy ceased during their exile” (Metzudat David).
The war in Ukraine has halted orderly production and export of vital grain supplies from that entire region, threatening worldwide food shortages and dislocations that are expected to last for years. Even in “wealthy” countries, many basic products are already in short supply or unavailable. With spiraling inflation and energy costs, more and more households simply cannot meet their monthly expenses, let alone save to buy their own dream home.
We may speculate as much as we like about who is to blame: The deep state warmongers who profit from dragging out and extending the Ukraine conflict? The hidden global manipulators who have driven up energy prices and are, to all appearances, willfully sabotaging farming and existing stocks of food? It is said that Bill Gates is systematically buying up all available farmland in USA. If his record of pandemic profiteering is anything to go by, this does not bode well. And Heaven alone knows exactly which strings the World Economic Forum is pulling all over the globe.
No! Such speculation will not help us. Governments, banking, financial and industrial leaders and their gloom-purveying media running-dogs keep heralding the coming depression, a sure sign that this is intended as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
History will not chronicle the catastrophic consequences for those already pressed to the hilt: those living under the poverty line, the elderly and others in the weakest sectors.
Even for those who survive, less will just have to be more. And if so, we had better look for the “silver lining” that must lie somewhere beneath this heavy, dark cloud. For: “In trouble, You have given me relief!”
Even while billions across the world lived in acute poverty, the fact is that since World War II, many in the West have enjoyed a standard of living unimaginable to their grandparents. Indeed, even if the coming global depression causes widespread distress, it is likely that many will continue to live in comfort with all their basic needs comfortably met.
Then why do the Torah sages teach that poverty is actually a benefit for Israel?
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, sought after the best traits to instill in the Jewish people, and He found that only poverty was able to keep them from sin. Chagigah 9b
It is enough to watch the highly-publicized antics of the super-wealthy to see that excessive material wealth may engender overweening arrogance, wastefulness, ingratitude, indifference to the pain of others and many more evil traits. On the other hand, poverty humbles the heart, forcing people to look for G-d to supply their basic needs. And when something good does turn up – even if no more than a tasty morsel for a change – the appreciation is all the greater.
The super-rich will not take their mansions, jewels, jets, fancy watches, yachts or any of their other possessions to the grave. The only true wealth is the eternally enduring wealth of Torah wisdom and the merits gained through the conscientious practice of G-d’s commandments, especially charity and kindness and the transmission of the Torah to our children and children’s children. And the value of these merits is enhanced all the more when they come to us through great hardship in the face of many challenges.
Out of the very famine in the days of Naomi and Ruth came the revelation of King Mashiach. And so may it be in our times!
Chag Shavuot Sameach! Happy Shavuot!
Avraham ben Yaakov