I this week’s Torah reading (Parshat Eikev), we read a verse that is very well-known outside of the Torah community (Deuteronomy 8:3):
“…Man does not live on bread alone…”
When one says “Man does not live on bread alone” today (without the ellipses before and after), one is typically stating that bread alone is BORING.
Want to live? Bread alone won’t do it. You need to have a cornucopia of culinary delights.
Plus what’s dinner without a SHOW! Want to REALLY LIVE? A person needs interesting activities to keep alive!
But the full verse gives more insight into what this phrase really means (context: Moses it talking to the Children of Israel and the “He” is G-d):
And He afflicted you, and He made you hunger, and He fed you the manna, which you did not know, and which your fathers did not know, to make it known to you that not through bread alone shall a man live, but by all that emanates from the mouth of the G-d shall a man live.
Let’s go through the steps of this verse:
- The Children of Israel were in the desert and were hungry
- G-d sent them manna – a food that was not bread and which no human ate before.
- He did this to let it be known that man does not live by bread alone.
- Rather, man lives by what emanates from G-d’s mouth.
The famous commentator Ibn Ezra (born Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra in 1089, died 1164) explained it as follows (he gives two similar reasons, and I am referring to the second):
The meaning of our verse is man does not live by bread alone but by the power which comes from “on High”. The proof of this is that the Children of Israel were in the desert 40 years and did not eat bread, and they survived!
The experiences of the Children of Israel in the desert are a paradigm for us today, so what can I learn from this and bring into my life?
Based on the Ibn Ezra, I think the lesson to learn is that G-d is the one who ultimately keeps me alive. I go through the motions of eating. I know of some people will ensure they have super-healthy diets. But in the end, it is G-d who keeps me going, regardless of what I eat.
(I was very much influenced by the death of Jim Fixx, a man credited with popularizing jogging. He died in 1984 at the age of 52 of a heart attack while jogging. While this incident didn’t deal directly with food, I clearly saw that a person can take excellent care of himself and his body – but it is ultimately G-d who decides who will live and for how long.)
At the same time, I think the verse hints to the fact that I MUST eat; I can’t fast and assume that G-d will keep me alive. (Though I will state that about 14 years ago I severely restricted my food intake, and I had significantly more energy than I do now, even though I am eating more food.)
So there you have it. Go through the motions and eat your food. But remember that it is G-d who ultimately gives our bodies the “divine calories” to keep us going.