By whatever comes out of the mouth of God does man live.” (Devarim 8:2-3)
Many people believe that humans are a combination of body and soul. What
they might not think about is how different the body and soul are, and how
each one pulls in the opposite direction of the other. By all rights, they
should separate from each other and go their own different ways. However,
though that might benefit the soul, which is eternal, the body, of course,
would die because it is dependent on the soul for life.
So, what keeps them together?
According to tradition, something called holy sparks. Holy sparks are
individually packaged portions of Divine light that act like some kind of
spiritual glue to hold the body and soul together. We’re born with holy
sparks, but they have to be constantly replenished throughout life for a
person to survive, and not just survive, but to be healthy.
The health of the body depends upon its connection to the soul. The closer
the body is to the soul, the more light the soul can give to the body,
keeping it alive. Likewise, the weaker the connection is between the body
and the soul, the less light the body can receive and the more it will
deteriorate. We call that illness.
Hence, the light of the soul is the life force for the body, and therefore,
the more soul light the body receives, the healthier it is and remains.
The question is, how does one replenish or add to his amount of holy sparks?
There are a few ways that we do this, but one of the main ways is by eating.
Food also contains holy sparks, and the more holy sparks food contains, the
healthier it will be. In fact, to be really accurate, the nutritional facts
that we find on the side of products should really report how many holy
sparks the food contains. In essence this is what they are doing by
reporting the healthy ingredients, since what makes something healthy is the
amount of holy sparks it contains.
So, when a person eats food and their bodily systems break the food down,
sending the nutrients to different parts of the body to do whatever they
must to keep the body working, it is really the holy sparks inside the
nutrients that are doing the trick, or rather, the miracle of keeping a
person alive and healthy by allowing the soul to remain attached to the
body, and perhaps coming ever closer to it than it was before.
But clearly food is not enough of a source of holy sparks, because there is
only so much food a person can eat, and therefore, only so many holy sparks
he can derive from his food. Health can fluctuate even with healthy eating,
so it would seem that we need more sparks than food can give to us.
So, from where else can we get holy sparks?
The clue to the answer is actually in the Torah itself, just after the sea
crossing and the miracle of the water in a place called Marah.
As the Torah reports, the Jewish people had arrived in Marah after crossing
the sea in order to escape the pursuing Egyptian army, only to find the
water there bitter. Thirsty, they complained to Moshe, who then turned to
God, Who gave Moshe instructions about how to miraculously make the water
sweet. It worked, and the Jewish people quenched their thirst.
After that episode, God told the satiated Jewish nation:
“If you will diligently listen to the voice of God, your God, and do what is
right in His eyes, listen to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I
will not inflict you with any of the diseases with which I inflicted Egypt,
for I am God who heals you.” (Shemos 15:26)
What do learning Torah and performing commandments have to do with health?
Obviously, if God wants to punish a person for disobedience, taking away his
health could be such a way. But, the Torah seems to imply a direct
correlation between the performance of commandments and health, and there is
a good reason why: Learning Torah and performing commandments are extremely
effective ways to receive additional holy sparks.
Hence, elsewhere in the Torah it says this regarding the manna the Jewish
people ate in the desert for 40 years:
“He afflicted you, and caused you to go hungry, and gave you manna to eat
which you did not recognize, nor did your ancestors experience it—so that He
could teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by whatever comes
out of the mouth of God does man live.” (Devarim 8:2-3)
What comes out of the mouth of God? Bread? Meat? Soft ice cream?
None of the above. Rather, it is holy sparks that come out of the mouth of
God, so-to-speak, and learning Torah and performing commandments puts us in
a direct line to receive them. In fact, so effective is Torah a means for
acquiring holy sparks that Moshe was able to remain on top of Mt. Sinai for
40 days and 40 nights without eating or drinking, and didn’t look any worse
for wear once he came back down again.
How did he not only stay alive, but healthy?
The entire 40 days and nights that Moshe learned Torah from the mouth of
God, he received his holy sparks directly from God, without food having to
act as the vehicle to bring them to him. He didn’t have to go to the bother
of eating to feed the connection between his body and soul, and this is the
way he remained the rest of his life. The commentators say that he only ate
in the company of others, to make them feel comfortable.
That’s a very high spiritual level to attain. Fortunately, for the rest of
us, it is enough that we eat healthy, learn Torah, perform commandments, and
live meaningful lives. Doing this will give us our daily supplement of holy
sparks, keep our bodies and souls happily together, and give us a much
better shot at living truly healthier lives.
This is one level of the message; Tu B’Shevat takes this discussion to a
whole new level.
Yes, Tu B’Shevat is a celebration of the fruits of Eretz Yisroel, and the
cut-off point for the rainy season in the Holy Land, but that is only Pshat.
On a deeper level, as the Pri Tzaddik explains, it is really the Rosh
Hashanah of one particular tree, the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, giving us a
chance to rectify it on some level.
Ironically, the first test of man was also an eating issue. Adam HaRishon
was told that he could eat from all the trees in the garden, except for the
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Kabbalah explains would have
become permissible on Shabbos, after it transformed into the Aitz HaChaim.
However, the First Man didn’t wait, committing what the Pri Tzaddik calls an
achilah sh’lo b’kedushah — an unholy eating. Eating from the tree on Shabbos
would have had just the opposite effect.
Thus, this has been the ongoing challenge of mankind throughout history, not
just to eat, not just to eat healthy, but to eat holy as well. Hence, the
emphasis on fruits of Eretz Yisroel on Tu B’Shevat: fruits grown from holy
land are intrinsically holy, as it says:
The fruits of the Land of Israel stem from holiness. Therefore, the very
same spirituality that was enveloped by the manna is enclothed by the fruits
of Israel. That is why no manna fell in the Land of Israel. That is also why
the after-blessing for fruits of the seven species in the Land of Israel
concludes, “upon her fruits,” as opposed to “upon the fruits.” This
indicates that the holiness of the land resides in her fruits alone and not
the fruits that grow outside the Land of Israel. (Tuv HaAretz)
Fascinating that the fruits of Eretz Yisroel should be connected to the
manna, which was given to the Jewish people to remind them that man does not
survive by bread alone, but by what comes out of the mouth of God. More
importantly, the manna was given to the Jewish people to make the point that
their existence is supernatural, which is important, because it is the only
way to really survive in Eretz Yisroel — especially today, when surrounded
by over 360 million enemies. Apparently, the fruits of Eretz Yisroel make
the same point.
This makes it clearer why there are so many agricultural laws, from the
tithing of fruits and vegetables to the keeping of the Sh’mittah year to the
leaving behind of forgotten sheaves for the poor. It is not just about being
charitable. It is about making sure that our eating is holy.
For, as the Torah states:
God told Moshe, “Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel
and tell them, ‘Be holy, for I, your God, am holy.’ ” (Vayikra 19:1-2)
This is how to maximize the amount of holy sparks you consume through
eating: The holier the eating experience, the more sparks one consumes.
This, too, is part of the Tu B’Shevat message.
However, once the topic of the manna comes up, and the connection to the
fruits of Eretz Yisroel is made, then it is important to convey what is
perhaps the most important part of the manna’s message:
The children of Israel collected [manna], some a lot, and some a little.
However, when they portioned out an omer, the one who had gathered a lot was
without extra, and the one who gathered a little was not missing any; they
had collected according to what each person ate. (Shemos 16:17-18)
How did this work? If someone picked up more than an omer, the surplus
rotted. If someone picked up less than an omer, then miraculously it became
an omer. Everyone got an omer of manna, and only an omer. No matter how hard
someone tried to cheat the system, the only one they cheated in the end was
themselves, having wasted time and effort to go against the will of God.
Hence, the rabbis say:
Who is a wealthy person? One who is happy with his portion. (Pirkei Avos 4:1)
“Of course, I’ll be happy with MY portion,” a person make think to himself,
“as soon as I get MY portion! In the meantime,” he may mistakenly assume, “I
seem to have someone else’s portion, because it is far less than I seem to
I grew up with the expression, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!”
which means that I wanted to eat more than my body was built to digest at
one time. Apparently, appetite does not take into account stomach capacity,
and on many occasions, I walked away from a meal stuffed to the gills, as
they say, and often with a stomach ache.
The expression can be applied to other matters, besides food, as is evident
by the amount of personal and national debt that is destabilizing countries
around the world. People always seem to want more than they are meant to
have, and often risk a lot, and sometimes too much, to get it. The fact that
they don’t have something, they assume, does not mean that it is not meant
for them. So they go off devising various different means to get what they
lack, some legal, some not-so-legal.
Here is another interesting point that people tend not to think about, or
even know about: Just because you get what you want does not mean that you
are meant to have it. Sometimes, when God sees how badly someone wants
something, and refuses to accept no for an answer, He’ll give it to the person.
However, there is a catch. Something that is meant for me will come to me in
a reasonable way, perhaps even with minimal cost and effort. If God feels we
deserve something, He’ll make a point of letting us know it by how and when
we receive it.
If what we get does not belong to us, this will not be the case. Rather, it
will come at a cost, and often one that will make us wonder what we were
thinking about when we sought the item in the first place. Or, it may simply
be subtracted from our eternal reward after death, at a time that we will be
able to fully regret the silliness of such past desires, but will be
powerless to do anything about.
How can a person know if what he wants is meant for him, and that if he
receives it, it won’t be at some unreasonable cost, whether in terms of
money, time, energy, or eternal reward?
The manna answers that question, as do the fruits of Eretz Yisroel. They
remind us that God is the Shopkeeper, the Ultimate Merchant; everyone else
is just a middle-man. He knows all that goes on, every person by name, face,
and deeds, and has absolute power to give or take away at will. He is just,
generous, and merciful, and depending upon the person, that can result in
receiving the thing of our dreams, or not getting it.
Ultimately, He knows better than we do what is good for us, and what is not.
If we become holy consumers, consuming whatever it is that we are consuming
in holy ways, then we can be sure that we will always get our omer, no
matter what, and the sense of contentment that comes along with it.
Happy Tu B’Shevat
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.