". . .blessed is the man. . .whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night." Psalm 1:2
Those who remember often call it “the hunger winter” because, in the cities at least, there simply was no food. Only the farmers had something to eat—their own produce, of course—and everyday, people say, the roads out into the Dutch countryside swarmed with city-dwellers in stumbling need of food. With no provisions, some ate their cats and called them “roof rabbits.” People did everything they could to secure what they needed to keep themselves and their families alive.
By late April, nothing was functioning. Schools were long closed, businesses had little to trade, the government non-existent. Liberation was coming and people knew it, but the Allies weren’t yet there.
That’s the setting for a story a woman once told me about herself, her mother, and a block of cheese. Somewhere the
province of Friesland, the , where the Nazis were
fleeing the advance of the Allies, a train was left abandoned, and along with
it an entire boxcar full of fresh Dutch cheese, which would have otherwise been on its way to Germany. Once it was clear that Nazis were gone, the townspeople commandeered
that train and everything in it, and dispensed the cheese to people who hadn’t
eaten that sumptuously for more than a year. Netherlands
The woman who told me the story was a girl back then, one of those who’d spent most of her days looking for food during “the hunger winter.” She got herself a block of cheese, she said, and, convinced what she’d been given was itself a miracle, she lugged it home to her widowed mother.
Her mother took one look at that free food and sent her back to the train. “To take the cheese is to contribute to chaos,” she told her.
And so the child walked back, placed that cheese like a sacrifice in the empty boxcar, and left, very much alone.
That’s what she remembered. That’s what she couldn’t forget.
Her mother's incredible thoughtlessness is not without its own coldly decided logic. What she feared more even than hunger was the madness of lawlessness, of chaos, of a life where disorder rules, as it can only do, insanely. Her icy order to her daughter had its own kind of madness; but to that mother at that moment, even hunger was less scary than sheer chaos.
Often enough, the people of Israel grumbled at what the Lord provided along the route of the exodus. It wasn't long after their dramatic walk through a dry sea bed that they told Moses that they thought the life of a slave was a whole lot better than the wretched wilderness in which they found themselves. At least, in Egypt, there was order.
It’s difficult for an old late-60s character like myself to believe the Psalmist took real delight, as he says, in the law, a series of “thou-shalt-nots.” “Thou shalt not covet”—now there’s an idea that warms the soul. I got to me free. I got to be me, right? Don't come at me with a chorus of don'ts.
But I know this too--that the law gave the people of Israel order. What it kept at bay, or so it seems to me, was chaos—both collectively and individually. What the law gave the Israelites, or so says David, the poet/shepherd, was an entire way of living, a God-blessed way of life. The law made life manageable and livable. The law made him feel blessed.
And it still does.