Eikev is a challenging portion. The beginning presents us with a real moral challenge as God, in the words of Moses, tells the Israelites that the people that God will deiver to them as they cross into Canaan are to wiped out. Idolotry again is the threat. Chapter [7:16]ff is a reminder that the Torah presents us with all types of challenges. The portion also contains one of the more famous passages in our tradition, Chapter 8 shifts gears as Moses reminds the people of the wonders God has wrought, how He fed them with manna and that these hardships were there to teach them that “man does not live on bread alone” (8:3) but that we live “on anything that God decrees”.
A Midrash on this passage suggests that we do not fixate on just earning a living, that eating (bread alone) to exist to work is not what the passage suggests, rather it is to remind us that our true purpose “should be learning in order to teach, observe, do, and uphod Torah in truth and faith” (Plaut. 1392). So, we take that passage and spin it to see what an underlying meaning can be. The Midrash, as other commentaries, notes that the text says we do not live “on” bread, not “by” suggesting hidden meanings. And it is this that may speak to us. Are we sustained by following the edicts ofTorah? Tradition, and this portion, say yes. But what else sustains us? What nourishses out soul?
We come now to an age in life that we can reflect on this passage. What really noruishes our soul? What really speaks to us? What are our priorities? Of course, if you lack food and struggle to meet the demands of daily life (as many elders are now doing in this pandemic) this passge is literally a challenge. Yet, for may who read this, we have sufficient “bread”. Our bodies are fed, but what of our souls? In an age of shelteringin place, of isolation and social (and spiritual) distance, what sustains us?
This is why this passge is so meaningful today. SO many people now ask themselves what really are the priorities of life? What do we miss, or what have we figured out that we need that is way more than food? So many on classes have reported that the physical deficit is so noticable. A hug, personal contact other than the Zoom screen. The social interaction with people on a personal and intimate level. The is passage of Torah is so relevant to what we are living through now. What a percet time it is, as Elul and the Holidays loom, to reflect on these few words. WHat do I need to nourish my soul? What do I hunger for?
Rabbi Richard F Address