Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 4 August 2018 / 23 Av 5778

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Message of Manna [Daily Bread]

Part of Moshe’s will and testament includes a description of how G-d provided for the people’s needs for forty years in the desert. On the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel, Moshe wants to make sense of some of their experiences in the wilderness, and to explain how these formative experiences are to guide them in the future. Much is about to change. From the miraculous midbar-life, where the clouds of glory not only protected them from the elements, but also, according to Midrash, laundered and ironed their clothing; where an endless supply of water accompanied them through their travels, and where manna fell from the heavens to their doorsteps, they were to enter a land that would require plowing, planting, sowing, and reaping. Not only would they have to fight natural wars to conquer the land, but they would have to work the land to earn their daily bread. Moshe now recounts the experience of the manna with its take-home message to accompany them for the rest of Jewish history.

He fed you with the manna which you did not know… in order to teach you that not on bread alone can man live; rather, man can live on anything that comes from the mouth of G-d. (Devarim 8:3)

Lechem, bread,shares a root with milchama, war. Lechem is the food that man wrests from nature, in competition with his fellow men. Bread is the result of nature combined with the intelligence man uses to master the world. Bread — both in its literal sense, and also in its figurative sense of livelihood — is seemingly the product of human intelligence and social cooperation. But creative human power alone cannot produce bread nor livelihood. Rather, the prime factor in man’s sustenance, all too often overlooked, is G-d’s providence.

One forgets this at his own peril. The need to provide for ourselves and our families is so legitimate and pressing that were we to believe that it can be met only by our efforts, other considerations would easily fall away. We could easily persuade ourselves that any gain wrested from nature or from fellow men will assure our sustenance, and the means by which we gained our bread would be irrelevant.

But even if the need for sustenance would not so trample our moral sense, the delusion that our fortune is in our own hands would lead to another undesirable result: our thoughts and efforts would undoubtedly be directed beyond our current needs, even beyond our future needs. We would easily become preoccupied with providing for the future of our children and grandchildren. As a result, the concern for breadwinning would become an endless race, leaving us neither time nor energy for purely spiritual and moral concerns.

This is why in the wilderness we were nourished with a bread that lacked the stamp of human achievement. G-d fed us with the manna, day after day, delivered to our humble dwellings, in a way that clearly demonstrated His personal care for every soul. This was preparatory training for life: Human existence does not depend on bread alone — on the natural and human resources represented by bread. Rather, man can, and does live on anything ordained by G-d.

  • Source: Commentary, Devarim 8:3

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