When I stand in line in a pizza shop or bagel store, I anticipate the counter fellow asking me, “So what do you need?” That’s because I often answer, “bread and water.” Then I smile and add, “that’s what I need. Now I’ll tell you what I want.” Of course I go on to order a potpourri of unneeded calories, that are comfortably arranged on the a staple of Western man dough. To some of us those toppings are the deep insight to the verse in this week’s portion, “Man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Of course as thinking Jews, we know the verse does not refer to bread or pizza garnishing. The suffix of the verse, contains the important message “rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live” (ibid).
By all means, this week’s portion tells us to keep life in perspective what we want, what we need and an attitude we must ingest and ultimately exude in the way we live our lives.
But the truth is the Torah seems a bit contradictory. It tells us, “He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the manna that you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.”
Did Hashem not sustain us with a physical form of sustenance? Hashem did not say, ” Do not worry; survive without bread;” rather he sent us a form, albeit a miraculous form, of bread. So, if eventually we need bread, and it does sustain us, how is He telling us that man does not live by bread alone?
A well-known therapist in the New York Metropolitan area received a phone call late one night.
“Doctor.’ the frantic voice on the other end of the phone pleaded. “I must make an appointment for my six-year-old son. He is in desperate need of a therapist.”
“And what makes you think he needs a psychologist?”
“Well, his mother and I are separated. During the week, our son stays by his mother. On the weekends he is with me.” The man continued. “Well we just began this arrangement. Tonight as his mother was about to put him to bed, he began to wail. ‘I want to go back to Daddy!'”
“She tried unsuccessfully to convince him to go to bed and finally gave up. She got him dressed, and drove him across town to my place.
“How did that work out?” asked the doctor.
“Well,” continued the father, he came to my place. Everything was fine until he was about to go to bed. Then my son began to cry incessantly. ‘I want to go back to Mommy!’ This time I had to drive him, and then…” The doctor listened a few more moments and then he interjected, “I don’t know if your son needs a therapist, but he definitely needs parents!”
The Torah is telling us a very special message. Of course, we need bread to sustain us. We must use the world’s physical resources to aid in our sustenance. But there is a message sent when in the evening we have nothing and the next morning we have manna. The message is that the physical sustenance we need be it agricultural nutrition, medicinal remedies, or a boost in business is all Heavenly ordained.
Hashem afflicted us and starved us. Then he gave us food that was totally measured, meted, and doled by His Divine hand. That daily ritual became a metaphor for eternity. Physical amenities are the very source of physical existence. But the source of that sustenance may never be overlooked. Man needs bread. That is the way of the world. But just don’t forget our Father who sends it. We may need therapists. But don’t forget the parents!
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.