Not by Bread Alone

Posted on July 30, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

Not many people know that I am fascinated by astronomy. Gazing at the cosmos, especially at pictures of the galaxies like those captured by the Hubble telescope, fills me with awe and wonder. But even more than by the majesty and beauty of the heavens, I am amazed by star power, by the fact that all life on earth is sustained by starlight, by the power of sun. Sunlight causes photosynthesis in plants, which are eaten by animals, setting in motion the causal chain that feeds all living things. All that we are, all that we have, and all that we eat is derived from the raw energy of God’s creation that began with “Let there be light.”
It makes sense, then, that we are commanded to bless God and give thanks for everything we consume, as we learn in this week’s parashah, Eikev: “V’achalta, v’savata, u-veirachta et Adonai Elohecha, when you have eaten and are sated, you shall bless God…” (Dt. 8:10), because it all comes from God. It is all a manifestation of God’s light. This also explains the meaning of another verse in our parashah, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes from the mouth of God.” As the great mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria of Tz’fat explained, it is the life-energy of God’s word within our food that sustains us in body and soul.
For this reason, we are commanded to recite the blessing over a meal after eating as little as an olive or an egg, even though it would seem to contradict the words of Torah that say, “When you have eaten and are sated, you shall bless God.” What if you have eaten too little to be sated? Does it make sense to give thanks to God for food on an empty stomach? It does if the basis for the blessing is not the quantity, or even the quality, of the food, as Rabbi Luria teaches, but the very fact that it comes from God – that it is a manifestation of God’s light and God’s love.
We Jews know well that food is love. We learn this early on from our parents and grandparents who love to feed us and watch us eat. There is way more than mere nutrition going on at our families’ dining tables. We are being physically infused with nurturing love. And when we fully understand this, we will realize that like the causal chain that transforms God’s light into food, so, too, the love of our parents is part of the chain of love that begins with God.
From saying a blessing for food when we are still hungry, we can learn an important lesson about life and its challenges. If we wait until we are sated to give thanks, it is not clear when that point will arrive. How much is enough? This is a great illness of our time. In our acquisitive culture, enough seems never to be enough. Our focus is too frequently on that which we lack, and the media are always reminding us that the next great thing will be the source of our happiness – at least for a fleeting moment. The antidote to this malady is gratitude – gratitude at its most basic level – gratitude for every gift and every blessing, beginning with our very being, which is a sign of God’s love and God’s goodness.
Ultimately, it is God’s love and God’s goodness that sustain us. This is why, in the prayer for abundance in the weekday Amidah, we ask God: “Sab’einu mituvecha, satisfy us with Your goodness.” God’s goodness and God’s love suffuse our bodies and our souls. God’s love is manifest in starlight and sunlight that animate and sustain us. For this it is fitting that we give thanks and praise to the Holy One of Blessing, the Source of all being:
Ba-ruch attah A-do-nai, e-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, she-he-che-ya-nu, v’ki-y’-ma-nu, v’hi-gi-a-nu laz’man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for bringing us to this precious moment. Amen.
May you have a peaceful and joyful Shabbat filled with gratitude for all God’s gifts and blessings!
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Arnie Gluck