The Book of Deuteronomy is a series of “sermons” by Moses, given as he recounts the years of slavery to the brink of entering Canaan. It is his farewell tour, so to speak. So, in this week’s portion he is recounting again the wonderous things that God has done for the Israelites. We arrive at a passage in chapter 8, vereses 1-6, in which Moses, in his recounting, speaks words that have found their way in to the lexicon of modern usage. We are reminded that we do not live “by bread alone”, but “by anything that God decrees” (8:3). This sparks, usually, an interesting conversation because the text tells us that God is controlling the means by and through which we can live.
In a recent Torah study class that I teach at the local JCC, we entered into a very interesting debate on this passage. I asked the class not about what satisfies their hunger for food, but what satifies their spiritual hunger. Now the class was comprised of Boomers and the generation ahead of us, with an age range from 50s-80s. After the usual moment of silence to see who would “go” first, the answers came: relationships, doing something for others, study, art, nature; all ways in which this group professed how they connected with the idea of being part of something greater. It sparked a lively discussion. Yet, what struck me, was what was not said. Despite the warnings of the passage, no one claimed that their spiritual hunger was satisfied via attending a religious service. Despite the rules and regulations of Deuteronomy (and indeed Torah), the class responded on a personal level. Community was important, but being part of a community that allowed for expessions of individuality.
This was by no means a scientific sampling of attitudes of people over 50. But, it does shine a light on what, I and many others feel is a trend that is growing, especially among Boomers. There is a “hunger” for meaning, a search for one’s purpose on earth and in this life. There is a recognition that this search may take someone far afield from the traditional “affiliation” model. This reality is impacting American Jewish life in new and creative fashion. It is as if our cohort has begun to understand the sub texts of the Ekev passage. The spiritual hunger is real. How we shall satisfy it will go a long way in shaping the next phase of American Jewish life.
Rabbi Richard F Address