Parshas Eikev: Why is food so important in Judaism?

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BY: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld

Food is important. Nobody will argue with that. Which is why you can sum up many central Jewish holidays with food. They tried to destroy us, we won; now let’s eat. We also value the entire spectrum of food, on Chanukah we eat fatty foods, on Pesach we eat unimpressive food, and on Tu B’shvat we eat fruits. On Shabbos we eat meat and on Shavuos we eat dairy. We even take care to where we eat, or how long we wait between one dish and another. Why is food so important? I think this פרשה gives us some insight.

There are no less than 10 references to food or eating in this weeks פרשה and some that don’t seem to make any sense.

1-      Moshe is explaining to the people that Hashem will conquer their enemies for them and he chooses to say ואכלת את כל העמים, you will eat your enemies (it is meant as to devour). There are much more straightforward verbs to describe winning a war and taking over an enemy, why would Moshe tell us that we are eating our enemies? Was it just for effect or is there a deeper message to this word of choice?

2-      In an effort to show how Hashem will always take care of us, Moshe reminds the people that Hashem fed them the מן which we were not familiar with in order to show us that we do not live by bread, we live by the word of Hashem.

3-      He describes ארץ ישראל in relation to its food. ארץ נחלי מים … חטה ושערה וגפן ותאנה ורמון ארץ זית שמן ודבש

4-      He continues, that this is a land where you will not eat bread in poverty, everything will be provided to you

5-      Then he gives the famous commandment, ואכלת ושבעת וברכת

6-      He describes the danger of what happens when we miss the third crucial step of the previous commandment. פן תאכל ושבעת … ורם לבבך ושכחת את יהוה אלהיך. If you eat and get satisfied but do not bless, one thing will lead to the next and you will forget Hashem.

7-      He again references the מן

8-      He calls Hashem an אש אוכלה, a consuming fire, to describe how He will capture the land for us

9/10- When describing the time he spent on הר סיני to daven that we do not get wiped out after the sin of the עגל, out of all the ways in which he could have described the 40 days he spent in שמים with Hashem, both times Moshe chooses to say לחם לא אכלתי ומים לא שתיתי, I did not eat bread nor drink water.

I think these references to bread/eating some of which are obscure and strange take us on a path which I think shows the true function of food and eating and why we have so many variations of how when and where we eat. I will start with number 2 since I think that is the center of the lesson. Hashem sent us the מן “אשר לא ידעת ולא ידעון אבותיך” which neither this generation nor their parents could comprehend in order to teach us another vital comprehension. כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם כי על כל מוצא פי יהוה יחיה האדם, for man does not live on bread alone, rather on that which emanates/originates from Hashem’s mouth man lives. Hashem specifically had us starve in the desert so that we would ask for food, and when we got food it wasn’t what we were used to. It was food that blew our minds. Food that we couldn’t comprehend, since it was clearly evident when looking at the מן that this was heavenly bread which emanated from Hashem’s mouth. And I think the lesson and task is to see all bread as that which emanates from Hashem’s mouth. It may not be as clear, but all our food comes from Hashem. And our sustenance may seem like it is coming from the bread, but really it is coming from Hashem, which is why some people are full after eating very little and some people are never full.

And I think Moshe is explaining the same message regarding ארץ ישראל. The land is wonderful and holy, but if you look and all you see is land, then you missed the boat. This is a land in which you will eat your enemies, and you will need to look past what you see in front of your eyes and see that it is in fact Hashem who is the אש אכלה who is consuming your enemies for you and allowing you to win these wars.

Then the people get a commandment to do something which will help them internalize this. Before we eat anything, we must bless (see that Hashem is the source of this food, according to most understandings of what a ברכה is) Hashem and after we must bless Hashem again. And we don’t, then it is a slippery slope to ורם לבבך, to having a haughty heart which will say כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה, it is my hands and my strength that allowed me to produce this food. Or in modern times, to start this company, to hold this job, to get that promotion.

We live in a world where it is so easy to see dollar bills as the wheat that have harvested and cared for so that they can grow, or to see the battles that we have won as our own might. The undercover of this week’s פרשה is to see bread for what it is. It looks like something that we processed, but in reality, it can only grow and give us sustenance because Hashem has said that it should.

P.S. I think the reason why Moshe refers to his experience on הר סיני in regard to his eating habits while he was up there, is because at that point when he was receiving the Torah and subsequently when the nation was in mortal danger, he didn’t have the option or luxury of going through the natural route to see Hashem, he needed to reach Hashem not through the natural order of eating and seeing it’s source. He connected to Hashem in a much rawer way, without eating or drinking. It is possible that there is a message in that for us to aim to have that type of relationship at times. At times when we are connecting to the Torah or when we need Hashem’s help, and everything is on the line, it isn’t appropriate to use the natural order. At a time like that one needs to bypass the natural and reach to access the special relationship that Hashem has with us.

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