by Melanie Heuiser Hill
This week, I am reading (for the umpteenth time) what I think of as The Very Most Favorite Book of the children in my church. They call it That Book About Bread. The book is In God’s Hands by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt and it resonates deeply with these kids.
I know how it will go. I’ll pull it out of my bag and a general clamor and harangue will go up.
“I LOVE THAT BOOK!”
“You haven’t read that book in a long time!” (Delivered with a pouty face.)
“You should read That Book About Bread EVERY week.”
Now, this is a very well-read group of kids — they are a terrific storytime audience. But they do not say these things about every book. Some books I pull out (especially if they are books “about God”) illicit these responses:
“You already read that one.” (Pouty face.)
“Aahhh…not that one!”
“Are you just reading that one first and then a better one next?”
“Can you read That Book About Bread?”
“Yeah! Read That Book About Bread!”
In God’s Hands begins like this:
When the sun sets and stars fill the sky, the square in the little town grows quiet and still. The cool air of distant hills mingles with the sweet scent of baking bread. The moon rises and glows softly. It’s the sort of place where miracles could happen.
The children grow quiet and still as I read. You can practically see them inhale the sweet scent of baking bread. They are ready to hear (again) about the miracle that happens in this book. They love that it’s called a miracle, because what happens in this book is a quotidian mix-up – and the kids figure it out before the characters do.
Jacob is a rich man, David is a poor man. Jacob, half asleep in synagogue service, hears God call him to bake twelve loaves of challah and set them before The Lord in two rows, six in each row. (What he actually hears is the day’s Torah reading from Leviticus.) Obediently, Jacob does this — he bakes twelve beautiful braided loaves and places them in the synagogue’s ark, where the holy Torah is kept, since that seems to be the closest place to God.
Soon after, David, the caretaker of the synagogue, comes before the ark and prays a prayer of quiet desperation. His family is hungry and they are out of food.
When I turn the page and David opens the ark to find twelve loaves of braided challah, the children all but cheer. They listen in delight as the miracle continues. Jacob, astounded that God has received his twelve loaves, continues to bake; and David, his children ever hungry, continues to receive with deep gratitude the miraculous loaves that appear in the ark. Neither man realizes what is happening — they quite appropriately call it a miracle. But the kids know what is going on, and they love it!
I love the message of this beautiful book — the wise rabbi explains that God’s miracles often work like this. “Your hands are God’s hands,” he says. And now that David and Jacob know this, they will have to keep acting as they have — doing God’s work with their hands.
“Read it again!” the kids say.
My copy is well-worn. I intend to read it until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one.