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Ekev, Bread and Faith

This week we read the famous line: “…man does not live on bread alone.”  But what exactly does this oft-quoted phrase mean?

First let’s examine the context:

God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.  He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees. The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years. Bear in mind that the Lord your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God: walk in His ways and revere Him.  (Deuteronomy 8:2-6)

Looking at the larger context we learn that this is a lesson about tough love.  God subjects the Jewish people to hardships throughout their wanderings in order to test their devotion.  God further tests the people so that they might learn that there is only one true source of sustenance and that is God.  Well, sign me up!

How is this motivating?  How is this a compelling argument for faith?  Who wants to be hungry?  Who wants to be disciplined? 

Perhaps the larger lesson is different.  While we may not wish to look toward God as the source of hardships, discipline and tests, they are a part of life.  The notion that life will never offer us challenges, that the road will always be even, is of course mistaken.  Everyone, even our children, will face difficulties.  All of us will encounter hardships. 

So we must see even these hardships as opportunities.  And how might we gain this change of heart?  By looking to God.

The idea is not that we should observe God’s commandments so that we might never face difficulties.  It is not as well that we have to prove our faith to God, as the Torah appears to suggest, but instead that these challenges can be openings to allow God in. 

Bread might sustain our bodies, but life is sustained by far more. 

After every meal our tradition counsels us that we are supposed to recite a blessing. This too is found in this week’s portion.  “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)  The Hasidic rabbi, Shlomo of Karlin, comments: “By blessing God you will become full.”

The fullness of our hearts can only come from singing praises to God.  Being satisfied comes not from a belly filled with bread but instead from giving thanks. 

A meal is much more than the food on our plates.

Only faith can fill the heart.