By Rabbi Nancy Tunick | Sept 1, 2016 Reprinted with permission from Temple B’nai Israel, Alabama
President James Garfield was quoted as saying “Man cannot live by bread alone, he must have peanut butter.” That is not the original conclusion of the famous biblical quote “Man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live,” spoken by Moses as he continues the review of our 40-year desert journey, though I’m sure peanut butter would have been gratefully received by our ancestors after decades of manna.
This part of the week’s Parshah had me considering what are the necessities in life? Food, shelter, clothing, health, education…. Where in your list would God and spirituality fall? We recognize that we need to meet our basic needs in order to keep our physical bodies functioning, but then what? We work at jobs, sometimes 2 or 3, to pay our bills. We carry our children and grandchildren to school and to activities that broaden their education and their worlds. We buy or rent homes, spend too much money for clothes and shoes and food. But what do we do to feed our souls? Do we recognize the moments in our lives that are touched by God? Do we stop to fill our souls with beauty and love? Do we carve out time to study, meditate and pray? What would our lives be like if we created our own daily schedule that not only included breakfast, lunch and dinner but also included a morning meditation, mid-day study and an evening prayer. Would we feel a shift in everything we do? Is this what attending Shabbat services is meant to fill in your lives….an hour of spirituality set against the other 167 hours of the week? How can we bring this one hour into a daily curriculum so that we can prioritize the reason why we are really here.
“Man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.” Moses is telling us that meeting our physical needs is not the purpose of life. That would be like saying keeping your car running is the reason you have a car, when really you own a car in order to get from place to place. Meeting our physical needs keeps us running, but why are we running at all? It’s not for the sake of just staying functional. It’s to connect to what is beyond us and to infuse that spirituality into our physical lives and world.
The title of this week’s Parshah is Eikev which translates to mean because, and the Parshah starts with “Because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” Moses is reminding us that our ancestors made a deal with God. The deal was, and still is, that we will take actions to promote righteousness on this earth and he will be with us. Those actions require more than just to keep our physical bodies fed, sheltered and clothed. Those actions require us to be kind, help strangers, study, give, and be mindful of our connection and covenant with God.
God feels like a parent throughout much of Torah. We even refer to him as our Father and we are children of Israel, b’nai Israel. After we brought Sarah and Louis into this world, I started to see more intense correlations with our relationship to God and that of a parent to a child. Scott often reminds our kids that a parent’s greatest responsibility is to prepare his children to leave home. It seems so counterintuitive that learning to let go is one of the best ways to love. And that teaching children to be independent of you is as or more nurturing than holding them close in your arms as they gain skills and the ability to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their own actions. That is an incredibly challenging lesson for me on a daily basis as my first thought is to help, help pave the way so that they are comfortable and secure. But as children grow into the people they are meant to be, comfort and security may be overrated. That is true for all of us at any age. When we read the review of our desert journey over these weeks, Moses sounds like a parent giving his children advice before they head off to college or a speaker who has been asked to give the graduation address. He is basically asking the question, “How do you learn to be a person who not only keeps running but also heads in the direction of the promised land or peace (which may be synonyms.)” Moses tells us that God is here for us but that does not relieve our responsibility to take action. He also says that everything is not all love and support from beyond. God chastises us for not reaching to be who we are meant to be. He sees our rebellion and still helps us, but not by making us more comfortable, but rather by pushing us toward bigger and more frightening challenges. God is always there for support and love, but only if we recognize that there is more to this life than what we see. There is more to how we spend our days than feeding our bodies, we are meant to feed our souls. While journeying through the desert for forty years, God provided for our physical needs and we were able to learn and connect in a curriculum that prepared us to be more independent in the promised land. The manna is about to disappear because we are entering the land of milk and honey, but milk and honey and peanut butter can be a real distraction from righteousness and connection. Once we meet our physical needs with figurative manna, we are challenged to recognize that all of our gifts are from God, the ones that keep us running and the ones that keep us searching, and that we are meant to journey forward with joy and hope and not just park and celebrate excess.
So as we face our week, let’s pack our cars and head off to college. We can create our own curriculum for peace that includes precious time to study and learn, to give and love, to quiet our minds and open our hearts. As we begin to prioritize the reason we are here, that is when the journey really gets good!