The seven years of abundance that the land of Egypt enjoyed came to an end, and the seven years of famine set in, just as Joseph had foretold. – Genesis: 41:53-54

Joseph, who is still imprisoned, once again finds himself interpreting an Egyptian’s dreams. They are the dreams of Pharoah himself this time. In the first, seven fat cows emerge from the river and are devoured by seven emaciated ones which follow them. Then, seven withered, wind-battered ears of corn swallow up  seven prime ones. Joseph correctly predicts that seven years of abundance will be followed by seven years of famine throughout the land.

Many deduce from this that cycles of plenty and hardship are to be expected and accepted as part of the natural order of things, if not the Divine plan. Applied to our lived experience, this interpretation is much easier to embrace when we are doing well communally and individually than when we are concerned about providing for basic needs.

Jewish wisdom holds that the pain of the many is a partial cure (tzarot rabim chatzi nechamah). In other words, in times of general crisis, we can take comfort in knowing that we have no been singled out to suffer and that countless others are similarly afflicted. By punctuating the Herew slightly differently (tzarot rabim, chatzi nechamah), Rabbi Joseph Potasnik derives a second meaning. During this period of economic decline, we who find ourselves in a better position have a responsibility to bring comfort to the many who are suffering. There are many ways to do this, including gifts of money, time, and yes – our baking, too.

These traditional and contemporary perspectives are not mutually exclusive. Our ability to comfort is bolstered by knowing that we ourselves are not alone.

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