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Bread of Shame

03/20/2019 10:29:46 AM


Rabbi Shalom Lewis

With the official end of my sabbatical I return to writing a weekly blog. My absence was self-imposed, but I am happy to be back. Your thoughts and reactions are always invited.
When I was 10 years old the hottest jewelry for one my age was an ID bracelet. I pleaded with my parents to buy me one. I even offered to have my name engraved in Hebrew, admittedly, as a manipulative fiscal ploy. Their proper response was for me to get a job and earn the money for my Speidel bling. I did. I became a delivery boy for the local pharmacy and raised what I needed. Though a youngster, I confess it felt good having earned the funds myself.
The college scandal has gripped the nation in recent days exposing how the rich, the famous, the powerful have manipulated the admission system with lies, bribery and shameless dishonesty. Many claim that this reflects a growing division in America between the haves and the have nots. A caste system that rewards the wealthy and punishes the less affluent. An argument can be made for this notion but I see it differently. To me it reflects a cultural poison that is ruining our younger generation. There is a flourishing sense that one can have a reward without earning it. A trophy and gold medal for simply finding one’s way to first base or warming a bench. A zeitgeist of entitlement infantilizes, corrupts and cheapens. The crime of such parents goes beyond the felonies committed.
Judaism has a concept called ‘nachmana dee kisufa’ - bread of shame. Our sages recognized that within the soul of every human being there is a dignity that must be honored. To eat bread unearned. To reap rewards undeserved is shameful and humiliating. They teach that a pauper would prefer to eat crumbs earned rather than handouts from a banquet table.
But truth be told, this goes way beyond a work ethic. It becomes a defining spirit of a society.
A couple of years back there was a powerful war movie entitled Hacksaw Ridge. It celebrated the true story of Desmond Doss, a pacifist who served as a medic, saved countless lives and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. His story was riveting but I saw beyond the biography. What was also portrayed in this graphic film was the heroism and sacrifice of the G.I.s who repeatedly climbed up a sheer cliff to battle the ruthless Japanese who held the high ground. After countless bloody, brutal assaults the Americans captured the summit. Okinawa was taken from the enemy and the tide turned in the Pacific Theater. As I watched the heroism of our soldiers I wondered if todays young adults possessed the same courage and moral clarity to confront evil and fight for freedom as did that Greatest Generation of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. I was not pleased with my conclusion. Most Millennials and Rising Millennials enjoy abundance and liberty as a yawning entitlement. I doubt they see the connection to Okinawa.
If we want an ID bracelet we are to get a job.
If we want to get into the college of our choice we are to study.
And, if we want to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, we had better be prepared to climb Hacksaw Ridge.
Mon, June 1 2020 9 Sivan 5780