Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What’s Eating You?

By Rabbi Joshua (hungrily known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

Moshe, as part of his farewell address to the people, recalls that God provided them with manna in the wilderness. He tells them, “He afflicted you and then let you hunger, then he fed you the manna that you did not know… in order to make know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of God does man live” (Devarim 8:30). Rabbi Dov Berel Wein, in his “BaMesilah Na’aleh,” explains that man is composed of both a body and a soul, and both must be provided for. A person who focuses solely on fulfilling his physical needs will feel an emptiness in his life because he neglects his spiritual aspects. These two elements are constantly struggling within him, demanding attention. The manna that the people received in the wilderness, fully provided them with their physical need for sustenance, and, still, they felt something missing. They learned that they were dependent on God and needed to focus on that aspect of life as well.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, in his Chazon Yechezkel, offers a different, somewhat esoteric explanation of our verse. He points to another verse in Bereishis (1:29) in which God on the sixth day of creation tells man, “Behold I have given to you all the herbage yielding seed that is on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed yielding fruit; it shall be yours for food.” Rabbi Abramsky explains that actually, God had created herbage and trees on the third day. However, all that He created that day, no matter how variegated and pleasing to the eye, would not have satisfied man’s hunger, until God said, on the sixth day, that it should serve as food for man. That pronouncement was creative, and gave the herbage and trees the ability to sustain man, and it is what our verse is referring to when it says that man lives through everything that emanates from God’s mouth. Perhaps we can offer a somewhat different explanation, inspired by Rabbi Abramsky’s approach, but going in a different direction.

After Adam sinned by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God tells him that, as punishment for his disobedience, “accursed will the land become, because of you – through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you and you shall eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” (Bereishis 3:17-19). Apparently noting the change from eating thorns to eating bread, the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel, based on the Talmud in Pesochim 118a (see the sub-commentary to Targum Yonasan – “Sarasi BaMedinos) records a conversation between man and God following man’s punishment. He cried and said that now, having the grass of the field as his food, he would not be different from an animal. He therefore asked God to allow him to eat from the bread that he would produce through planting and harvesting, through his own human effort, thereby distinguishing him from the animals. God acceded to his request and told him that “by the sweat of your brow will you eat bread,” meaning that because he cried and asked that he be differentiated from the animals he would eat bread, the product of his labor. Perhaps, when Moshe was telling the people that man does not live on bread alone, but by all that emanates from God’s mouth, he was referring to this incident and its aftermath. The manna came to the people in the wilderness, without any effort on their part, and thus, the sense of differentiation between man and animal, granted to man after his sin, was lacking. Before entering Eretz Yisroel that one lesson of the manna, which left the people unsatisfied, was that, in order to feel one’s humanity, it is necessary to put some effort into life, and not just receive everything as a gift. In kabbalah, there is a concept of “nahama dekisufah,” or “bread of embarrassment,” which, while received free of charge, leaves a person embarrassed to look in the face of his provider. In Eretz Yisroel, the people were to return to their natural form of existence, in contrast to the miraculous nature of their existence in the wilderness. God’s providence would direct them, but in a hidden way, which explains this lesson of the manna, that it was preparing them for this environment, reminding them that the words that emanate from God, “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread,” were really a blessing.