Hungry from Ekev, Deuteronomy 7
by James Stone Goodman
“So G*d afflicted you and made you hungry, and had you eat the manna which you had not known and which your ancestors had not known, in order to make you know that not by bread alone do human beings live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of G*d do human beings live” (Deut. 8:3).
A human being does not live by bread alone, taken out of context, it is often understood as we do not live only for money, but the whole verse tells us that clearly something else is intended.
The Rabbis (Sifrei on Ekev) noted that Torah is bread, and the commentaries are additional sustenance, a person does not live by bread alone. Study the commentaries please, we know this.
The verse also reminds us of the famous saying of R. Elazar b. Azarya in Pirkei Avot (3:21), “if there is no bread, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no bread.” What does this mean? Here Torah is not bread, on the contrary, the imagery is of two separate substances, one bread, one Torah. Here we may understand bread in the common way that Deuteronomy 8:3 is understood: a human being does not live by bread alone, that is bread, sustenance, parnassa, a livelihood, the material necessities.
If so, it is easy to understand the first phrase in Avot, if there is no bread, there is no Torah, because it’s tough to be holy when you’re hungry. But what does the second part of the R. Elazar’s words mean–if there is no Torah, there is no bread?
The Dow free fell three hundred points because Mr. Merrill and Mr. Lynch weren’t learning? That’s precisely the point, it’s not about the Dow, it’s the Tao.
R. Elazar b. Azarya was a 2nd generation Tanna (1-2nd century rabbi) who was a man of wealth and yichus (good genes). He could trace his ancestry back ten generations to Ezra the Scribe. R. Elazar became Nasi (big shot) as a young man, his beard turned white overnight so his colleagues would accept him. I’ve seen this happen.
So what did he have in mind when he said, if there is no Torah, there is no bread? For a person with no Torah, any amount of bread is never enough. A person without Torah is a person who remains hungry, dissatisfied. It’s about Torah, not about bread. Always hungry, there will never be enough bread to fill the emptiness that only Torah can fill.
There is an emptiness inside of me, a cavern, it will not be filled with bread, with stuff, there is not enough substances to fill that space, this space is vacant for want of Torah, for want of depth, for want of spirit, this space is not hungry for bread, this space is hungry for meaningfulness, for significance, for depth, for Torah.
A human being doesn’t live for bread only; a human being lives for Everything. Only Everything is everything. That’s the danger with this kind of hunger, we think we can stuff ourselves with substances.
Drugs won’t do it, booze won’t do it, sex won’t do it, money won’t do it, food won’t do it, only the living G*d, only Torah, only HaKol, Everything. Not the Dow, but the Tao.
I got a monkey in my soul. “The I is a thief”, said the Kotzker, it snatches the partial and mistakes it for the whole. Only Everything is everything. Into an inner emptiness we stuff the partial, we drink into that emptiness, we drug into that emptiness, we work into that emptiness, we eat into that emptiness. Never enough. Only Everything is everything. “Not by bread alone do human beings live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of G*d do human beings live.”
You can’t eat enough, you can’t drink enough, you can’t love enough to satisfy a hunger that isn’t physical. “My soul thirsts for G*d, the living G*d” (Psalm 42:3). That’s the only remedy, the enduring remedy, the perennial wisdom.
“You will eat but you will be satisfied only when you bless G*d” (Deut. 8:10).