We spend our lives working, raising kids and planning exactly for these so- called golden years. We hope that we can call them our golden years. Isn’t this the time when we have financial resources to live without having to work. And if we do work it is because we want to and not because we have to work. Isn’t this the time when we begin to acquire some level of perspective and wisdom about the struggles we went through and the challenges we faced earlier on in life? Isn’t this the time when we reassess the past and recognize the success we had on multiple levels which we might have not appreciated earlier on in life? And isn’t this the time as we watch our children follow the pathway of work, earning a living and giving to their children as we gave to them that we begin to rethink about what we needed to survive in or previous years versus what they need today to survive and be satisfied in the world?
The Torah portion give us some insight about the meaning of a life well lived. In the Torah Portion Ekev, Deuteronomy Chapter eight verses two-three. We read, “He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the LORD decrees.” What does that mean for us? How shall we apply this verse to us and our lives over the years?
This verse combines something that strikes a familiar chord about life. Struggle is part of life. Hardship contrasted with moments of beneficence whether we call God the source of these moments or not. Judaism has struggled for a long time with this verse. Generally in the popular culture this verse was used to give us perspective that man does not live by bread alone meaning don’t count on the road of life to be easy. Don’t be surprised when bad things happen or when good things can happen. The other part of the verse is that God is testing us to see how we cope with these ups and downs.
It is hard to involve God this way because holding God responsible as the arbiter of our fates good or bad often creates more theological problems that it solves for us. We see these issues, for example, play out in biblical books such as the book of Job as he lashes out at God for causing him so much suffering. Joseph shares his faith with his brothers when their father Jacob died by saying that God put him through all the suffering of his kidnapping, his servitude in Potiphar’s house and then his servitude in jail for valid reasons which were to solve the problems with his brothers and make peace. We look at biblical women who enjoyed the rapture of joy when they were able to give birth to children. These same women suffered great anguish because they had trouble and suffered much emotional trauma at not being able initially to have children. The upshot is what most of us know which is that there is no easy ride for most of us in this world. Have we not come to understand that life is all about facing struggle and challenges as well as liberation and joy?
No one wants the suffering for ourselves or for our loved ones, yet, without pain, how can we live a real life? We want to protect our children from all harm yet when we do that and they get what the want. Haven’t we inoculated our kids from facing the challenges of life? Do we not handicap them at the same time when one day we will not be able to intervene to help or shield them? What have we done for them to give them skills for life? I am as guilty as the rest of trying to do these things for my child. I suppose most of us have done the same. We worry and then there comes a moment when they surprise us and find a way to step up to the plate and meet those challenges just as we did.
The Talmud in tractate Yom 74b comments on chapter 8:3 and gives us some perspective about focusing on real priorities in life. They ask how can there be affliction when the Israelites were eating manna? What was the affliction?
Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi disagreed on this matter. One said you can’t compare between one who has bread in the basket and one who does not have bread in the basket. In other words the affliction was that there was no leftover food the next day in the basket after they ate the manna. So the people worried each day that they might not have any food to eat each day. Here there is a clear distinction.
The other rabbi said there is no comparison between one who sees the food and eats it and one who does not see the food and eats it. Though the manna could taste like anything, it always looked the same and did not look as it tasted. But being unable to see the food that they tasted was an affliction.
I use this talmudic text to say that the symbol of food to represent life means life’s challenges. The rabbis are pragmatic about life’s realities when contrasting those with versus those without food. Yet the other rabbi gives us a different kind of message. One who sees the food he eats verses one who does not see the food. The idea of seeing makes all the difference of the world. The point is not about how it tastes but about not being able to see it. Thus literally seeing the food is a deeper message which says not seeing could mean not appreciating and not grasping the meaning of having the food that God gives.
Basically the spiritual message reminds us all that not appreciating what we have and how we survive is like being unable to see those blessings or being able to unable to understand the blessings we have in life.
So the Torah says that God tested us with hardships of hunger and gave us manna and reminded us that Man does not live by bread alone but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees.’ This verse along with the rabbis analogy is trying to enlighten us about facing the challenges of life as part of life versus those who do not do so.
The real spiritual hunger is not seeing or grasping that which we hunger for in life. Food is one level going up the hierarchy. To see the food is all about understanding and making peace with how we lived and how we continue to live in the world today.