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Jewish holiday meal

Man does not live by bread alone — but why?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Ekev” (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) and it has quite a bit to say about food.

For example, we find the famous statement, “Man does not live on bread alone.”

We also have the important mitzva, performed daily by those who do not follow the Atkins diet, of “Birkat Hamzon” – the Grace after Meals. The Grace after Meals is recited after one has eaten bread. This is because a “meal” is defined as the consumption of bread in Jewish law.

From the perspective of Jewish law, a hearty feast of meat, chicken, vegetables, and rice, with some pareve ice cream for a great dessert, is actually considered a “snack.”

Let’s examine a little more closely the statement, “Man does not live on bread alone.”

On the surface, it refers to the Manna, the Heavenly bread, that God gave the Jewish people almost daily during the forty years of wandering in the dessert. Hence, we are being told that bread, and by extension, all food, is not the only thing that keeps the Jewish people sustained. We are a nation that survives on miracles, something that has been seen umpteen times throughout history.

Most people need bread and can survive on bread alone — but not the Jewish people. There will always be a spiritual angle to our “bread” and survival.

The kabbalists take this statement a bit deeper. It is explained that human beings are made up of two parts, body and soul. The body requires “bread” – food, drink, medicines, and the like – physical sustenance. The soul, however, needs a spiritual sustenance. But what is this “spiritual sustenance” and where is it to be found?

It is explained that when an artist creates something, whether it be a painting, statue, or something else, once the work is completed, it is, well, complete. The painting can go on a wall to be admired and a statue on a shelf.

But this is not true when it comes to things that God creates. When God creates something, it is not completed.

Ever.

Rather, God continuously injects his spirituality into the creation to sustain its continued to existence.

God created the trees, fruits, grass, sun, and all the rest — but He actually continues to create them. He continues to give them the spiritual power they need to function. The sun and moon were not set on “autopilot” but rather God Himself continues to power all the works of creation.

If God would remove His “energy” from His works of creation, the world would cease to exist.

This applies to food, as well!

Food doesn’t merely contain the nutrients we need for our bodies to survive. The Godliness component in our food also has the “spiritual nutrients” needed for our souls to survive!

However, in order to “activate” the spiritual powers in our food, we have to be spiritual when eating. One who eats food without any Godly recognition or thanks only nourishes his body. But someone who eats with an awareness that eating is a spiritual activity recognizes and acknowledges God by reciting the appropriate blessings before and after the food.

Only then does one unlock food’s spiritual benefits.

Let us realize that eating is a spiritual activity, and when done correctly, an opportunity to connect with God.

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