This week’s portion, “Ekev” continues the recitation by Moses of aspects of the Wilderness experience. The portion begins with a morally questionable (to us in our age) call to destroy the people of Canaan who would rise up against the Israelites, showing them no pity. (Deuteronomy [7:16]) I invite you to raise this text at your weekly Torah study. It raises all types of issues, especially since the call to do this comes from God.
In chapter 8, we read a verse that has come into our modern idiom. From Chapter 8, verse 3, we read the verse when Moses reminds the people that God brought the trials and tribulations to the Israelites to test them and their faith and that to remind the people that “lo al ha’lechem l’vado yich’yeh” (man does not live by bread alone). In their book “Sparks Beneath the Surface” Rabbis Kushner and Olitzky note the words of Rabbi Mendl of Rymanov, who introduces us to the notion that this really refers to the spiritual hunger that surpasses our hunger for food.
Let me suggest that this takes on additional significance as we get older. For many Boomers, we have been fed well, our material needs, for the most part have been met. Yet, there resides in us, gradually, a spiritual hunger, a hunger for a sense of meaning and purpose; a desire for the answer to one of the basic questions of our life; why am I alive?
We have alluded to this a lot in this space because, this search for something of a spiritual foundation to life is, as many have suggested, a foundation upon which we seek to construct the last third of our life. It goes to the sense of legacy we wish to leave behind as well as a sense that there must be a connection to something beyond the self that gives life meaning. It goes beyond attending religious services (although for many this is a necessary condition of spiritual security) and extends to an existential confrontation with one’s own mortality. Indeed, the text seems to be saying that if you only live by bread alone (the material) your life will miss a deeper and more meaningful embrace. Jewish tradition brings this concept to us on a regular basis. When we sit down to eat food, what are we asked to do? We are asked to say a blessing, thus bringing the spiritual world into the regular act of eating. It is a not so subtle reminder that not by the bread alone do we find nourishment. We are nourished by the food for our body and our spiritual life which nourishes the soul.
We need food to survive the material world. What Moses may be saying to us, is that that material “food” is not enough for a maximized and fulfilled life. It is the life of the spirit, the soul, that takes us to new levels of understanding and gives us the pathway to meaning.
Rabbi Richard F Address