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Side by Side for Fair Trade

Side by Side for Fair Trade

This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Kedoshim, which includes this famous verse from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow man as yourself: I am the Lord.” Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745–1807) provides additional insight on this critical verse: Reb Moshe was in a saloon where he overheard the conversation of two patrons who were drinking and overeating, and then each gave the other a big hug. “Do you really love me?” the other replied, “But of course.” The first responded, “How can that be if you do not know my secret pain?” Reb Moshe then revealed the deeper meaning of our verse, “You cannot really love another if you do not know their secret pain.”


Growing up for Cathy, my wife, if it wasn’t chocolate, it wasn’t dessert. She especially remembers her Aunt Lois’ amazing chocolate cakes. I knew I was welcomed into Cathy’s family when I came for my first visit and received a gift-wrapped package of Frango Chocolate Mints from Marshall Fields. When our boys were young, after they shoveled the snow from our driveway, their reward was hot chocolate with whipped cream.


Now let me tell you about the secret pain that you do not see inside a bar of chocolate. Almost half of the world’s cocoa is sourced from the Ivory Coast. There are 48,000 small farms. The cocoa industry there is being investigated for child labor/slavery violations.  Many of the laborers are children tricked into coming to earn money for their families. Other children are kidnapped in nearby Mali and Burkina Faso and trafficked over the border on motorbikes. The children, ages 10-16, work 10-12 hours a day; they are rarely paid and certainly do not go to school. They are beaten so they are afraid to escape, and perform dangerous tasks like cutting the cocoa pods down with larger machetes.

What can we do? Let me suggest three things to make visible the secret pain of chocolate.

When Rabbi Naftali Zvi Horowitz, the Ropshitzer Rebbe (1760-1827), was in heder, learning at an early age, his teacher taught him that when the Hebrew letter yod appears twice in a text side-by-side, those two letters spell the name of God. One day the young Naftali came to his teacher with what he thought was the name of God. He was mistaken. He showed him the Hebrew vowel sheva. Two dots one on top of the other, not side-by-side. “See here is the name of God.” The teacher responded, “No, my son. The name of God is when two yods are side-by-side, but here this one on top of the other, this is a sheva, the sound of nothing.” Rabbi Naftali would later teach the simple meaning of this verse, ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ means when two people stand by his side, in one row, then, Ani Adonai, God is present.”

My dear friends, it is time to stand side-by-side by the child laborers of West Africa. My dear friends it is time to see the secret pain of others, then God is truly present in our lives. Amen


Rabbi Dr. Elliot Salo Schoenberg has served for 25 years as the Associate Executive Director and International Director of Placement for the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) the world-wide professional association of Conservative rabbis. A Brandeis graduate, he received his MA and Rabbinic ordination, Doctor of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and is the author of 7 books, 11 study guides and more than 30 scholarly articles. He came to Fair Trade through his passion for good coffee, which turned into passion for just coffee. His home synagogue, Beth Shalom in Teaneck, NJ, is the first Fair Trade synagogue.  

Tyler Dratch is the Torah, text, and tradition coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) and a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.

Tyler Dratch

Published: 5/13/2016