Thursday, August 10, 2017

Breaking Bread

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the great eighteenth century Hasidic rebbe, once saw a man running around in a great hurry. (He must have visited New York City!) He asked the man: “Why are you running?” The man answered: “I am running because I have to earn a living.” Rabbi Levi Yitzhak asked him: “How do you know that this ‘earning a living’ is running away from you so that you have to race after it to catch it? Maybe it is instead behind you, in which case you are fleeing from it.”

We chase after many things. We pursue career advancement. We run after bonuses and raises. Perhaps instead our livelihoods are behind us. What gives us life might already be present. We may have already gained that which animates our souls. All we need to do is slow down and look at what is right before our eyes.

The Torah concurs: “Man does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) This frequently quoted verse suggests that we are sustained by more than just food. And yet this is not what the Torah states. The verse reads in its entirety: “God 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 human beings may live on anything that the Lord decrees.”

The Torah’s intention is clear. We are sustained by whatever God gives us. Manna might not be served at any five star restaurant (or any star restaurant for that matter) but we can live on it for the simple reason that it is a gift from God. The Torah implies that whatever God dishes out, we must take; we should take. Moreover we can live on it; we should live on it.

The Torah’s lesson is clear. Everything is a gift from God. And we should say, “Thank you.”

Still we require more than bread to live. We are sustained by so much more than the food we eat. We require purpose. We need friends and family to surround us. And yes, we even need hobbies.

This is why the rabbis of old counseled that we should never say the blessing for food while standing. Never say a blessing when rushing. Never eat, for example, while standing and waiting for a train. Instead we are instructed to sit. Why? Because when we sit down we transform the food our bodies require into a meal. It is the company of family and friends that changes eating into a meal. The necessity of food is transformed into a sacred occasion by blessings and others.

It is the people who surround us that nourishes us.

When you sit, it is impossible to rush. And then it is much easier to look behind you. It is much easier to give thanks.

Back to Rabbi Levi. Stop chasing after things. Look in the rearview mirror.

All the sustenance you require is sitting there before you.

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