Eikev continues the sermonic summary of the Wilderness experience by Moses. He continues to recount the history that has befallen the Israelites, reminding them of the dangers of following other gods and the rewards of adhering to the Law. The portion is filled with stark images and reminders of the Israelites past forty years of struggle, placed in the context of God testing the people. (8:2). In perhaps the most famous passage of the portion, Moses states that “He subjected you to the hardships 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 God decrees.” (8:3). The literal theology here is stark. God shall decree what “feeds” us.
This did get me thinking as to what feeds us as we get older. Obviously not literally food, but for our soul; what drives us, what motivates us, what feeds who we are? This stage of life is filled with transitions; transitions of body and mind and, yes, soul. Is it a coincidence that Eikev comes to as at the dawn of the month of Elul when we begin to prepare for the High Holidays? Our tradition asks us to contemplate as to what feeds our soul? This is the time of year when this question is raised to our highest level of concern. Is the beginning of the answer hinted at in the end of the portion? In [10:12] we read “And now, Israel, what does God demand of you? Only to revere God, to walk in God’s ways, to love God and to serve God with all your heart and soul”. Can this be a formula for our search? Does the portion say that to live, it is necessary to transcend the material world and to dedicate our lives and souls to that which is beyond our own self? It does seem that so many Boomers are doing this, as we know people of our generation who, in their third life stage, have sought to “give back” to the community.
What Eikev may be saying is part of the motif of the upcoming Holidays. We cannot survive just on “bread”. To really live, we need to be part of something beyond the material. This idea is sorely needed in a world which seems to worship the now, the present, the material. Perhpas this text is reminding us that we are really part of a larger community of humanity, that the silos that define so much of modern life are really a means of increasing social division and harboring a lack of knowledge and understanding of others. “To walk in God’s ways” challenges us to see beyond the “bread” of immediate satisfaction and gratification. We need that more than ever.
Rabbi Richard F Address