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Did you steal that apple? by Nigel Savage
I was teaching about Tu B'Shevat to a number of people at the Orangetown Jewish Center. We were talking about this idea of food being stolen from God. What does that mean, exactly? "Sir," I said to a man at the front of the room, "what was the last thing you ate before you came here?"
"An apple," he replied.
"Great," I said. "An apple. Did you steal that apple?"
"No," he replied, "I bought it at ShopRite."
People smiled. But he was quite right. When most of use want an apple, we go to a store and we buy one. With stores and markets as the intermediating mechanism by which we obtain our food, which necessarily involved not stealing- what could this text possibly imply, and how can a bracha make a difference?
I said, "Sir, if someone had given you a million dollars, would you have been able to make that apple?" And people smiled again, this time with a different sense of awareness.
The point of "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24) is to remind us that we enjoy the natural fruits of creation. We ourselves did not create and could never create them. A bracha is different than saying, "Thanks for dinner, Mom," (though we should say that, too). When the rabbis of the Talmud suggested not merely that we say a bracha before eating, but that failing to do so represented a case of theft, this is a central idea that they teach us: we might buy an apple or we might grow it, but we can never create it, and its creation is an everyday miracle.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. Do you believe that eating something without saying a blessing is stealing? Why?
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