Food: Something many of us enjoy … and maybe often a little too much. Reading through our Torah portion, Eikev, I thought about the great holiday dinners of Pesach, Rosh HaShanah, Thanksgiving and others. There is nothing like that satiated feeling after an excellent meal, where you feel like curling up on the floor and drifting off into a “food coma.”
When we are without food, we cry out to God like our ancestors did in the wilderness, wondering why God has abandoned us. We kvetch and complain without faith in God’s provision. And yet, when God does bring nourishment into our lives, whether physically or spiritually, we often momentarily thank HaShem before wolfing down our food, and again fall quickly back into complacency.
Judaism teaches that in all things we must bless HaShem. And how much more so in those difficult times, like when we are happy, full, and content after a wonderful meal? Torah teaches us that although we are commanded to enjoy the finer things in life, we should remember there are finer spiritual delicacies as well:
A person does not live by bread alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of HaShem. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
Many faith traditions have a custom to bless God before we eat. We do this in Judaism as well. However, the Torah emphasizes that our greatest blessing should come AFTER we eat:
You will eat and be satisfied, and you will bless HaShem your God for the good land He has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)
Hence, the mitzvah for Birkat HaMazon. When our natural tendency is to slip into a food coma, Torah instructs us to acknowledge God after we have eaten so that even in our satisfaction, we give thanks to our Provider. This reminds us that our true life source is not physical food alone, but HaShem, the Creator of all things.
Moshe links the command to bless God after we have eaten to God’s provision of manna from heaven. The manna was a spiritual sustenance that the rabbis recognized nourished the soul as well as the body. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
In truth however, Moshe’s words are applicable now as well, because it is not the physical efforts of working the land alone that causes the land to yield produce. Rather, man’s efforts merely create a ‘vehicle’ into which God places His blessings, and it is the Divine blessing which provides us with sustenance. Therefore, even the food which grows from the ground is in fact ‘food from heaven.’ (Likutei Sichos 16)
As we daily eat and are satisfied, let us not forget that it is not by bread alone that we live. When those times in our lives arise when it is easier to just slip into a food coma, let us overcome those moments and use them as a vehicle for blessing God. This was the lesson of our Mashiach when he too encountered temptation in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-4). Instead of giving-in to simple satisfaction, he countered the Adversary with the exact words from our Torah portion.
May we also remember that we do not live by bread alone. As followers of our Mashiach, we are continually nourished spiritually as well. As we eat, let us give thanks to our Creator and for His daily provision in our lives.