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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

October 5 , 2022

Once upon a time, a stranger arrived at a village. The stranger was hungry and thirsty. She began to meet the villagers, but something about them was odd. They were timid and afraid. Everyone was reserved and cold. When the stranger asked if anyone had food to share, everyone looked away, sheepishly. Finally, one villager spoke up about the pervasive scarcity in their town. The villagers simply had nothing to offer her. Each person had barely enough for his or her own family.

The stranger smiled. “I have just what you need!” She held up a smooth stone, the size of the palm of her hand. "This stone,” she said, “has the power to create a spectacular, nourishing soup.” 

The villagers, grumbling, did not believe her, but she persisted. So enthusiastically did she speak of the power of the special stone, so vividly did she describe the aroma and taste of the soup that soon, some of the villagers became curious.

Then she asked, “Surely, there is someone in this village who has a large pot. And surely, there is someone in this village who has enough water to fill the pot.” 

One villager, figuring there was nothing to lose by lending his pot, retreated to retrieve it, and another, skeptically, offered to fetch water. Now with water and a pot, the stranger took great care to drop the special stone in it. She lit a fire beneath the pot and stirred the water and the stone with reverence.

“Carrots and potatoes would go very well with this stone soup, if anyone happens to have any,” she suggested. 

Other villagers went to gather carrots and potatoes. As the stranger stirred in the new ingredients, excitement grew, and still other villagers began to volunteer additional ingredients. Beans and spices, herbs, tomatoes and corn! Each villager brought one item from home for the communal soup. 

Before long, the whole village was volunteering something to contribute. When the pot began to overflow, villagers brought out tables and chairs and plates silverware, napkins, glasses, flowers, bread, and wine. 

At last the soup was ready, the table was laid, and there was an abundant feast 

for everyone to enjoy. [1]

This is a story of what can happen when we choose abundance, rather than scarcity. The villagers believed they had nothing, and it’s true, they may have had little, they may have wished they had more. 

The stranger with the stone, which was just an ordinary stone, by the way, taught the villagers to see riches where they saw poverty, to see opportunity where they saw hopelessness, to see abundance where before they saw only scarcity. 

As Kerry Alys Robinson, religious philanthropist, explains: 

“Many in the world see limitation, scarcity, insurmountable obstacles, and inability, while yearning for the opposite. There is no magic wand, no secret formula, no set of perfect pre-conditions for profound positive impact. Yet everyone can be an agent of transformation.” [2]

Everyone can be an agent of transformation. 

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed, but we have the ability to transform our world, through, as we have explored t’filah: gathering for prayer, teshuva: repentance and return, and finally, through tzedakah, through righteous giving. 

Tzedakah is our sacred invitation to view the world through the lens of abundance, and to share this abundance with the people and places we hold dear. 

A second story of choosing abundance over scarcity comes from our biblical text:

Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, handsome and sturdy. But then, seven other cows came up from the Nile close behind them, ugly and thin, and the seven thin cows ate up the seven handsome cows. And Pharaoh awoke. He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk. But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream! The next morning, his spirit was agitated, and he sent for all the magician-priests of Egypt, and all its sages; and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but not one could interpret them.

Pharoah learned of a Hebrew youth named Joseph who could interpret dreams. He sent for Joseph and recounted his dreams, begging for an explanation.

Joseph said to Pharaoh, “[Your] dreams are one and the same: [You] have been told what God is about to do. Immediately ahead are seven years of great abundance in all the land of Egypt. After them will come seven years of famine, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. As the land is ravaged by famine, no trace of the abundance will be left in the land because [the famine] will be very severe. As for [you] having had the same dream twice, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and that God will soon carry it out. [You should] find someone discerning and wise, whom you can set over the land of Egypt…Take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered, and let the grain be collected…to be stored in the cities. Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish in the famine.” The plan pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers. [3]

Pharaoh fears scarcity, and Joseph shows him a path toward abundance, of stockpiling and securing resources during a time of wealth to safeguard their well-being in leaner times. 

How often have we felt like Pharaoh, nervous for our future? 

And when have we needed to step up and be like Joseph, offering guidance and wisdom for how to move forward?

Walter Brueggemann, Christian bible scholar, offers broader context for this story of Pharaoh’s dreams, situating this biblical episode in the paradigm of scarcity and abundance. 

He explains:

“In Genesis, God blesses Abraham, Sarah and their family. God tells them to be a blessing, to bless the people of all nations. Blessing is the force of well-being active in the world, and faith is the awareness that creation is the gift that keeps on giving. That awareness dominates Genesis until its [41st] chapter. In that chapter Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land…Pharaoh[’s dreams] introduce the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, ‘There's not enough.’…By the end of Genesis the notion of scarcity has been introduced into biblical faith. The Book of Exodus [then] records the contest between the liturgy of generosity and the myth of scarcity -- a contest that still tears us apart today.” [4]

It tears us apart, indeed. A scarcity mentality is a source of conflict, callousness and critique. When we choose scarcity, we imprison ourselves, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s Egyptian dungeon. 

As Rabbi Sarah Bassin explains:

“When suffering through times of scarcity, we often see this behavior. People select scapegoats and attack them to regain control over their environment. Jews have been the unfortunate recipients of such tendencies throughout history. As we know from experience, this devouring of another does little to alleviate actual problems. Society is still left meager and with an even deeper ugliness for its moral deficiency.”

A third story. A story of Elijah our prophet, from our midrash, inviting us to view our scarcity as abundance, and to share it will all:

Once, a rich man fell upon hard times and lost all his wealth. To support his family, he took a job as a laborer. One day, Elijah appeared to him in disguise and said to him, "You are destined to enjoy seven good years of prosperity. Do you want them now 

or at the end of your life?" 

"You are a devil!" cried the man, and chased Elijah away.

Again Elijah appeared and repeated his offer. 

"You are a wizard!" cried the man, and chased him away. 

A third time Elijah appeared, and this time the man said, "I will ask my wife for advice.”

His wife said to him, "Ask for the good years now. For if we ask for them at the end of our lives, we will know our days are numbered as soon as good fortune comes to us." 

So he went back and told Elijah what his wife had said.

When he returned home that day, his children greeted him trembling with excitement and said, 

"Father, see what we found while we were digging under the large stone in our yard! A treasure!”

His wife said to him, "Let us use this gift wisely. If we share what we have with those less fortunate, perhaps God may grant us more good years.”

And so for the next seven years, they opened their hands generously to the poor and performed many acts of tzedakah. 

At the end of seven years, Elijah once again appeared to the man. “I have come to make good on my pledge," he said. “Your seven years of wealth are coming to an end."

“Wait,” said the man. “I asked my wife's advice the first time you appeared. Let me consult with her again.”

 So he ran home and told his wife that the messenger had come to reclaim their fortune.

"Tell him," said his wife, "that if he can find two people who have used such a gift more wisely than we, then he can have it back.”

Elijah searched the world over, but nowhere did he find two people with more generous hearts. So he never returned to reclaim the wealth, and they enjoyed prosperity and good health until a ripe old age.

It is our choice to view the world as abundant in resources, our choice to accept our fate, our choice to share what we have. 

As Joseph explains to Pharaoh, by sending him two dreams with the same meaning, God is telling him what is going to happen, not just implying one possible outcome. 

However, Joseph continues, Pharaoh still has a choice as to how he will respond. We can throw up our hands, say we have nothing, see the bills stacking up, lean into cynicism. 

Or we can opt for a vision of abundance. We can view our lives, our Jewish community, our synagogue, through a frame of scarcity, or we can choose abundance. 

Like the village blessed by the visit of the stranger with the magical stone, we can learn to see our resources through the lens of abundance, rather than through the cynicism of scarcity. 

An abundance mentality invites us to sing about our gifts. The generosity 

of the Feigenbaum brothers, leaving us a lasting legacy through the endowments that support our congregation. The inspirational example of our many volunteers, giving their time and talents to keep every part of our temple running, from second night seder, to social gatherings, to board leadership. 

The donations of all size, made by over ninety percent of our Temple member families, that support our daily activities and future dreams for Jewish life in Pittsfield.

 We have a choice about how we behave in the months and years to come. 

Like Joseph, we can plan thoughtfully, ensuring future abundance. 

We can lift each other up, rather than saying, there is less for us because there is more for them.

Like the couple who meets Elijah, we can share our wealth in all its forms. We merit the gifts that come to us when we share them with others. 

Whether through funds for fuel assistance, diaper drives, or supporting our Afghan refugee family, we share what we have, and abundance only leads to more abundance. 

We can be the villagers, who contribute what we have, to ensure there is enough for all, giving of our time, talent, and treasures according to our means and abilities. 

When the people of Israel were invited to build the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary in the desert, each brought a gift according to their means, and every gift was welcomed, 

honored, necessary, and blessed. 

And we can be the stranger, who brings the stone and helps those around us, in our immediate circles, in our Temple, in our city, in our world, see that we live in a place of abundance, not scarcity. That when we all give, we have enough. 

As the psalmist declared, min ha’meitzar karati Yah, anani ba’merchav Yah. I called out to God from a narrow place, a place of scarcity, and God answered me, expansively, abundantly. 

God’s abundance is here for each of us, the choice is ours to see it in front of us.

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. And yet, all is not foreseen. We get to make the choice. Through t’filah, teshuva, and tzedakah, we have the power to determine if we live in a world of abundance or scarcity. 

We hold that magical stone in our hands. The stone is magic because we make it so. Our world is magnificent and abundant. The gates will close this evening, and we have all that we need to make this next year one of abundant blessing.

G’mar chatimah tovah.

[1] As told by Kerry Alys Robinson, Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy, and a Spiritual Call to Service, 2-3, adapted

[2] Robinson, Imagining Abundance, 1

[3] Genesis 41



[6] As told by Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker, c.f. (Midrash Zuta Ruth 4:11; Yalkut Shimoni II #607; English language sources: Bin Gurion III 1220-1223, retold in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, ed. Ellen Frankel [Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1989], pp. 585-586)

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Sat, March 25 2023 3 Nisan 5783