Parashat Ekev - Not by Bread Alone

הרב שבתי סבתו
כב אב תשעו
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
What is the secret of the vitality of this food that so nourishes man and gives him life? Does its importance stem simply from the basic nutrients of which it is comprised? Do we praise it b



אב ה'תשע"ו

Aug. '16

פרשת עקב

Parashat Ekev

 הרב שבתי סבתו

 Rabbi Shabtai Sabato



לא על הלחם לבדו

Not by Bread Alone

לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם, כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
…to inform you that man does not live by bread alone;

he rather lives by that which comes from Hashem's mouth. (Dvarim 8,3)




The Packaging and the Contents

The Psalm entitled Borchi Nafshi – that which sings the praises of G-d's Creation, and which we recite every Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) – grants a very special status to the "staff of life," namely, bread. It states:

וְלֶחֶם לְבַב אֱנוֹשׁ יִסְעָד
And bread will satiate man's heart.
(Psalms 104,15)


What is the secret of the vitality of this food that so nourishes man and gives him life? Does its importance stem simply from the basic nutrients of which it is comprised? Do we praise it because of the way in which it builds up the cells of the body?


The Torah illuminates this matter from a surprising angle. In this week's portion, we read:

וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ,
Hashem made you suffer and starve, and fed you the Manna
that neither you nor your fathers knew,


לְמַעַן הוֹדִעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

to inform you that man does not live by bread alone,

but rather lives by that which comes from Hashem's mouth.
(D'varim 8,3)


It appears that the Torah means to say that in addition to physical bread, there is also something else, a separate entity called that which comes from Hashem's mouth, upon which man will live.


Looking more deeply, we will discern that that which comes from Hashem's mouth is not an entity detached from bread, but is rather its very internal essence! Bread serves the function of fancy "wrapping paper" for G-d's word.


Man will not live by bread alone, that is, not by the outer covering alone. He will exist with bread, but also with something in addition to it, something that is its inner content – namely, the word of G-d.


This revelation leads us to another verse in the same chapter:

וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה.
וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל

Lest you say in your heart: My strength and force brought me this wealth -

You must remember Hashem your G-d,

for He is the One Who gives you strength to gather wealth.
(D'varim 8,17-18)


Here, there is no room for error; the relationship between the internal and external forces is clear. The Torah is telling us that yes, we have the external strength to amass wealth - but we must always remember the source of this power. Hashem our G-d is the hidden, inner source that stimulates the material force stored up in our two hands and in our intelligence and thoughts.


Here we see clearly that the "strength and force" of a person is simply an outer covering for the inner light that keeps them going. This is exactly how bread is made: A physical covering of G-d's word within.


The Journey of the Divine Light

We must remember that the material world is a result of the active intervention of the Divine Light in that which we see around us. This spiritual light descends into the world and takes upon a physical form in a three-stage progression:

* Stage 1: The Light is still in its spiritual format. This is the level of Moshe Rabbeinu when he spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai.

* Stage 2: The Light becomes Manna, the bread that came down from the sky and nourished the Children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness.

* Stage 3: Bread comes from the earth. The Light penetrates into the ground, and returns packaged inside the wheat stalk.


Let us review these three stages.


Stage 1: Spiritual Food

Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Mt. Sinai, remaining there for 40 days and nights without food or drink. How did he exist? The answer is: via the Divine Light. Moshe was nourished by the highest level of the Divine Light, before it became a material substance. This Light penetrated his body, and later, when he descended, even shone outwards to those around him.


This is how the Torah describes Moshe's meeting with Bnei Yisrael when he came down from the mountain:

וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מֹשֶׁה וְהִנֵּה קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו וַיִּירְאוּ מִגֶּשֶׁת אֵלָיו
Aharon and all the Children of Israel saw Moshe.

And the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him.
(Sh'mot 34,30)


The shining of the light brings to mind the World to Come, as the Talmud explains:

There is neither eating nor drinking in the World to Come – only tzaddikim [righteous people] sitting with their crowns on their heads and enjoying the splendor of the Divine Presence. (B'rachot 17a)


Stage 2: The Manna

In the second stage, the Divine Light takes on the form of Manna - tiny transparent particles that look like crystal diamonds and melt like hailstones. They cover the face of the earth amidst the dewdrops, and their taste is sweeter than honey.


The Manna had five special traits distinguishing it from regular bread:

1. It was impossible to keep and preserve the Manna from one day to the next.

2. Every flavor in the world could be tasted at will in the Manna.

3. All of the Manna was digested in the body; there was no waste.

4. It was impossible to collect each day more than a certain amount - an omer, equivalent to about 1.6 kilograms.

5. On the Sabbath day, there was no Manna; instead, a double portion fell for each person the day before.


The Manna can accurately be compared to mother's milk. The milk nourishes the baby, is produced each day anew, and through it, the baby can taste whatever his mother ate.


Stage 3: Bread Grown from the Ground

After the Manna, we come to the third stage: bread from the earth. In this stage, the Divine Light penetrates into the world and grants the sun its energy. This energy, in turn, shines down and builds the wheat stalk, which can be used as food for man in the form of bread. Man thus absorbs the sun's energy, and with it, the Divine Light.


In other words, in this third stage, the Light descends to earth along with the seeds, and grows together with - and within - the stalks. It is at this point that the Light dis-appears within the physical, becoming the normal bread that we eat each day.



Grace After Meals: Birkat HaMazon

Parallel to the above-mentioned three stages, the Torah requires that we recite three blessings in the Grace After Meals (the fourth blessing was ordained by the Sages). Let us analyze the three blessings in light of what we have learned.


The first blessing is הזן את הכל, HaZan et HaKol, the blessing of sustenance.

This blessing is an expression of thanks for our regular food - the bread that comes from the earth. Unlike the subjects of the other two blessings, we receive this food for free, without having to make any "spiritual payment." This is because it is the most basic and necessary foodstuff for the existence of life on earth. Hashem is He Who created man and animals, and He is ethically "required" to supply them with food. This is part of His responsibility for the continued existence of the world He created.


This idea is the basis of the following story from the Gemara (Bava Batra 8a), which took place during a time of famine:

Rebbe (Rabbi Judah the Prince) opened his storehouses and invited the public to take food for free. He made one condition, however: Whoever wanted to partake had to prove that he had learned at least a minimal amount of Torah – a Mishnah, a passage of Gmara, Jewish Law, or even just one verse of the Bible.

One of his top students, Rav Yonatan, wished to take some food without proving his level of knowledge. He presented himself as an am haaretz, an ignoramus. Rebbe tested him, saw that he knew nothing, and told him he cannot receive food. Rav Yonatan answered, "Then provide me like a dog or a crow." And so Rebbe gave him food.

After Rav Yonatan left, Rebbe regretted what he had done, saying, "Woe unto me, for having given my bread to an ignoramus." His son R. Shimon said to him, "Could it be that it was your student Rav Yonatan ben Amram, who does not want to benefit materially from his Torah learning?" The matter was checked, and it was found to be true. Rebbe then said: "Anyone who wishes, may enter [and partake]."


Let us analyze this story.


Rebbe felt that people who object on principle to Torah study cause harm to the entire world. He therefore prevented them from standing on line for bread, in order to force them to study something, even if just a Mishna or a verse. If someone couldn't learn even such a minimal amount, it was not because he was unable to, but rather because he simply refused to do so.


On the other hand, there were Torah scholars who, on principle, refused to identify themselves as such, so that their Torah study would be totally for the sake of Heaven, and not to enable them to receive gifts.


But let us concentrate on this point: What did R. Yonatan mean when he asked for food like a dog or a crow? The answer is that he was referring to the concept we explained above, according to which the Creator is morally obligated to support those He created, without demanding anything in return. "Am I any worse than a crow or a dog," R. Yonatan asked, "which are provided with food without having to fulfill any requirements?"


This is the essence of the first blessing of Birkat HaMazon. It begins by praising G-d Who "provides sustenance for the entire world, out of His goodness, with favor, kindness and compassion" – with no demand for payment – and ends with saying that G-d provides sustenance for all. The entire world has the right to demand from its Creator a minimal amount of food necessary for its existence.


However, if we wish to request more than the minimal amount or quality, we have no choice but to "pay." And this brings us to the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon.


The second blessing in the Grace After Meals is that of "the Land and Food." This blessing deals only with the bread that grows in the Land of Israel, in accordance with its closing phrase: al haaretz v'al hamazon, "regarding the Land [of Israel] and the food."


To eat food from Eretz Yisrael is truly a very high level; not everyone is privileged to do so, and it comes at a price. The Nation of Israel is not permitted to settle its Land and enjoy its fruits unless it fulfills two conditions:

1) Brit Milah (ritual circumcision)
2) Talmud Torah (the Study of Torah)

Yehoshua Bin Nun was ordered to circumcise the Children of Israel as they were about to enter the Land of Israel, as we read:

בָּעֵת הַהִיא אָמַר ה' אֶל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ עֲשֵׂה לְךָ חַרְבוֹת צֻרִים וְשׁוּב מֹל אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֵׁנִית
At that time, G-d said to Yehoshua,
"Make for yourself swords of flint,
and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time."
(Joshua 5,2)


In addition, Moshe repeatedly reminded Israel that keeping Hashem's laws was a necessary pre-condition for their inheritance of the Land:

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי... וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ
You shall keep My statutes and My laws...

so that the Land will not vomit you out as you defile it.

(Vayikra 18,26-28)


This explains why we thank Hashem in this blessing for both Brit and Torah: "…the covenant [the Brit] You sealed on our skin, and for the Torah You taught us." And the Talmud rules (B'rachot 49a), "Whoever did not mention Brit and Torah in the Blessing of the Land in Birkat HaMazon did not fulfill his obligation."


The customary explanation for this is that the desert has no naturally-appearing plant life, and therefore G-d had to provide food, drink and clothing for Israel. However, in Eretz Yisrael, fruits of the land grow naturally, and it therefore became incumbent upon Israel to plough and plant, build and repair, and eat and drink in the manner of normal human existence.


There is yet another profound insight to be gained from the fact that man-made bread replaced the Divine Manna. It shows us that the value of the Land of Israel's food is equal, spiritually speaking, to the Manna they ate in the desert.


It's true that G-d must supply us with basic food, and we need give nothing in exchange. But the special food that we are privileged to eat in the Land of Israel is on a higher level than regular food, and therefore does have requirements – namely, Brit Milah, Torah study, and observance of the Laws.


The Third Blessing

This brings us to the third blessing of Birkat HaMazon: the Blessing for the Rebuilding of Jerusalem, dedicated to the Holy City and the Beit HaMikdash.


To attain the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, we must merit the Kingdom of the House of David and the restoration of prophecy. Economic independence and lack of reliance upon any other nation are fundamental conditions for spiritual and physical flowering and growth. They are also requisite for the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel on the entire territory of the Land of Israel.


This is all included in the words of the third blessing of Birkat HaMazon: "May we not be dependent on gifts from mortal men, nor require loans from them."


In addition, in the Beit HaMikdash we will merit special bread – the lechem hapanim, the holy Showbread. This bread has the amazing quality that one can eat just a little bit, no more than a bean's worth, in order to be satiated. This is a special blessing that was given via the Holy Temple bread.


In addition, this special bread would miraculously retain its freshness and warmth for a full seven days.


We can see a certain parallel between this Holy Temple bread and the Divine Light that nourished Moshe Rabbeinu on Mount Sinai. This special, sacred bread includes within it the Manna, and deeper within it - the Light of Hashem.


Similarly, our body is nourished by the bread, while our soul, the nefesh, is nourished by the Manna of the bread, and our spirit, the neshamah, is nourished by the Divine Light, hidden very deep down and providing life to all. This Divine Light is that which we mentioned above: that which comes from Hashem's mouth:

לְמַעַן הוֹדִעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
Man does not live by bread alone,

but rather lives by that which comes from Hashem's mouth.
(D'varim 8,3)


In conclusion, we see two progressions of three stages each:


The Divine Light began in its most spiritual sense, then took on the form of Manna, and then the form of physical bread.


And the three levels of bread:

1) Regular bread, with no requirements;

2) the bread of the Land of Israel, equal to the Manna, which has some requirements;

3) and the highest level - the Holy Showbread in the Temple, which includes, very deep within it, the Divine Light in its most spiritual form.


Shabbat Shalom.





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