December 1, 2005
Forget Aesop, Think Kushner
Jacob always falls asleep during the rabbi's speech and dreams of making money to further his riches.
Daniel is so poor that when he sweeps the floor while the rabbi talks, he can barely hear anything over the growling of his stomach.
Both these men's fates come together in the children's fable "In God's Hands," written by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt, fancifully illustrated by Matthew J. Baek. (Jewish Lights Publishing, $16.99). Kushner's other children's books include "Because Nothing Looks Like God" (Jewish Lights, 2000) and among his adult books is "The Way Into: Jewish Mystical Tradition" (Jewish Lights, 2004), Schmidt is the author of Newbery Honor Book "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy" (Clarion, 2004).
In the spirit of old Jewish tales, "In God's Hands" takes place in a nameless small town in an unnamed time with the rich man and poor man lost in their own thoughts: "That's pretty much how it went day after day. And that's how it might have kept on going until, one morning, Jacob, the rich man, did something he had never done before: He woke up, just for a moment, during the reading of the Torah. Why did he wake up just then? Who knows?"
Jacob hears the rabbi recite a verse from Leviticus. "You shall bake 12 loaves of challah, and set them before Me in two rows, six in each row."
It's a tale of crossed wires -- like Guy De Maupessant's "The Gift" - when Jacob starts to bring the bread to the synagogue when no one is there, and places them in the ark. Daniel comes to synagogue to pray to God for food and finds the loaves of bread. Both men believe that God is directly responsible, until the rabbi witnesses the whole scene and brings the men together to understand that the miracle comes from within them.
"God does not eat challah. And God does not bake challah," the rabbi says. "God's miracles are not like that."
Jacob and Daniel understand.
"If you were there, you might see them -- two men standing together, looking at one another," the book ends. "Two men who understand that their hands are the hands of God."