THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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A. THE BACKGROUND, & AN OVERVIEW, OF AKEV
In last week's reading, V'etchanan, Moshe reviewed Israel's grand peak experience-- God's Revelation at Sinai, amidst 10 Proclamations, the root principles of His 613 developmental commandments (Saadya); Israel responds with Shma, declaring God's Oneness and Allness. Their infinitely intense love relationship is celebrated in Song of Songs. But Moshe warns of 2 dangers of opposite extremes: 1) the trees of objective precise scientific Torah observance may be lost in the forest of subjective religious ecstasy. 2) the detailed 613 mitzvos may become mechanical routine, not permeated with awareness of Sinai's Divine Revelation. The forthcoming State of Israel may forget its Divine origin and goal-- to be a model holy nation. Luxurious indolence, living off others' labor (today?), will bring Israelites close to hedonistic and aggressive Canaanite idolatry, not yet eradicated. Nevertheless, God's covenant of kindness is preserved by those INDIVIDUALS who love and obey Him, the remaining faithful members of His "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6); His faithful rewarding response on earth, however, may be long delayed and/or prolonged, "kept in Mind", even 1000 generations (2000 for those who serve Him from love, not fear, per Rav Shimon b. Elazer, Sota 31a-- are we now cashing in the Patriarchs' "Israel Bonds"?). Tho God doesn't usually punish the wicked on the spot (which would destroy free will), He eventually does so, destroying them in the next world, after rewarding them for their bit of good in this world (Deut. 7:9-10, per Mecklenberg and Rashi, who experienced the Crusades-- see G. below, but also see Eruvin 22a).
Moshe now turns to the fate of the COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE-- its reward and punishment is NOT so long delayed; its wealth, health, and victory are directly linked to its OVERALL sensitive connection to God and Torah (Rav S. R. Hirsch). Destruction and exile are the fate of those who profane the land of Israel-- e.g. the 7 nations, about to be evicted by God, Everyman's Landlord.
Moshe reviews Israel's desert trek as passionate religious teaching, not just historic information (cf. yeshivot and universities); the new generation must not repeat the errors of the old. Thus even those who posit chronological order elsewhere in the Torah (e.g. Ramban) may exempt this last book-- effective preaching determines the order in Dvarim. Moshe first recalls the spies' fiasco; only later does he discuss the Calf. His immediate problem is not Israel's moral dissolution, but building their faith in God, a prerequisite for successful holy war and conquest. Warnings and reproofs are freely given and repeated by Moshe, naturally arising from his tale; they need not convey new information. Fighting the dark recesses of man's soul, channelling primary drives, is a never-ending battle; the messages must be constantly hammered in, howbeit with changes in style and mood (giving mussar). The Torah's general lack of chronological order (per Rashi and Ibn Ezra) may also be necessary for subliminal messages, derived from the order of its letters and words (Sefer Hachinuch, Introduction to Dvarim-- cf. The Codes).
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B. A SYNOPSIS OF AKEV
Akev begins-- IT WILL BE (v'haya), BECAUSE ("akev", literally "at the heel", or "finally") YOU (Pl.) SHALL SENSITIVELY HEED THESE LAWS, GUARD THEM, AND KEEP THEM-- GOD WILL PRESERVE FOR YOU THE COVENANT AND KINDNESS WHICH HE PROMISED YOUR FATHERS (Israel can always return to God's covenant). HE'LL LOVE, BLESS, AND MULTIPLY YOU; HE'LL BLESS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB AND THE FRUIT OF YOUR LAND... ON THE EARTH (not a mystical concept of Israel), WHICH HE PROMISED YOUR FATHERS TO GIVE TO YOU (7:12-3-- See D below). Sensitive hearing, true study, is a prerequisite to doing mitzvos in their intended spirit; women, created "LIKE HIS OWN WILL", sole determinants of their children's Jewish essence, can do this and reach Him via their holy instincts and emotions; men, whose instinctive ability is inferior, must utilize more formal study and practice to reach the same place. Love of God, thus aroused within the Jew, is answered by love of God for the Jew (Midrash Hagadol).
Judaism wants Torah study to be a religious experience, leading to observance, tho study for ulterior motives may eventually become a religious experience-- university Judaism may lead to Yeshiva Judaism (cf. Uri Katz's journey from Harvard to Chofetz Chayim, aided and abeted by Harry A. Wolfson!)-- We are not the People of the Book (per Mohamad), but of the Holy Book-- cf. German and Austrian intellectual and cultural grandeur, and their attempts, before trying to destroy Israel itself, to destroy Israel's Torah by the pseudo-scientific "Higher" Criticism; it's now perpetuated by self-styled "scientific" scholars of Bible, some even Jewish, at H.U., H.U.C., JTS and other dispassionate dry academic institutions.
These blessings of crops and livestock indicate God's positive attitude toward agriculture in an IDEAL Jewish state, per Rebbe Yishmael (Ber. 35b); but Rashby strangely turns God's agricultural blessings (11:14) into curses, disdaining Jewish agricultural labor-- others should do their work (Is. 61:5); perhaps he said this before God punished him and his son for their destructive other-worldly outlook toward good farmers, by returning them to their cave for a year (Shabbat 33b); the talmud notes that those who followed Rebbe Yishmael prospered in both Torah and worldly success-- Rashby's ecstatic multitudes failed in both, tho rare individuals who followed him, e.g. the Besht and Rav Nachman, achieved greatness. Great Yemenite scholar and tzadik, Rav Yichye Kapach, grandpa of Jerusalem's famous Rav Yosef Kapach, denied both Rashby's authorship and the authenticity of the Zohar and excluded it from his Dor Deah siddur and yeshiva, about a century ago; in Melchemet Hashem, he compares Rashby's statements in the Talmud with those attributed to him in the Zohar, and finds them incompatible. Pro-Zohar Yemenites responded to his arguments; his many followers continue his approach to this day; they include chief rabbi Arisei of Kiryat Ono, a member of the supreme rabbinic council, and Avraham of Jerusalem's famous inexpensive Maavad Hak'somim restaurant on King George St. (next to Carvel, where you'll find 2 liters of ice cream for the price of one, next to the register)-- they have synagogues, where no passages from the Zohar are recited, on Bar Ilan St. (Rav Yichye Kapach) and off Shmuel Hanavi St. (Mr. Cohen is the gabbai) in Jerusalem.
Hirsch sees farming, man's connection with the Lord of Nature, as a basic part of faith education-- great scholar Yissaschar both farms and studies Torah; Brother Z'vulun, whose life focus is import-export, just helps him in a less inspiring task-- marketing his produce abroad, and by bringing non-Jewish collegues to hear his/His message from Jerusalem.
Moshe again urges the Jews NOT TO BE TOLERANT of idols and idolatry in Israel (Vs. AJC, ADL, ICRA?)-- they may lead them astray. Prosperity itself may lead to idolatry-- God's blessing brings Man's arrogant rebellion. Moshe tells Israel that overwhelming numbers and other normal criteria of military success do NOT apply to their conquest (cf. 1948, 1967). God will only let Israel conquer Israel gradually, until they multiply and fill it; otherwise, wild animals might take over the depopulated land. Now He won't tamper with His own laws of nature, e.g. by a plague suddenly killing the animals or the Canaanites. IF Israel has faith, they'll devastate their enemies and destroy their kings. But even gold and silver ornaments upon the idols, taboo and offensive, must then be destroyed (not glorified in museums).
Moshe now reminds Israel of their desert tests; their trials made them aware of their potential for a life of true faith in God; they were forced to gain a realistic sense of human fallibility and helplessness (Hakitav V'hakabalah). Hungry Jews HAD to eat the manna, strange food, with no experience of its durability or effects. People usually like foods with which they've grown up; such food, oral satisfaction, relieved most of us from our infantile distress (cf. nervous "nashes"; your eating reflects your soul-state)-- creative cuisine may endanger our sense of permanence and security. The highly perishable manna also tested faith. The sun melted it each AM; only a limited daily dole could be collected; each day Israel worried about its continued supply (Ramban). But this experience engendered faith in God as one's only True Provider (cf. being cast into water to learn to swim). Rav Hirsch criticizes misers, who don't trust God to provide for them in the future too.
Cultures vary in their stress on regularity, commitment and fidelity vs. creativity, flexibility and experimentation. Americans are more likely than Israelis to try the chicken another way this Friday night, or to change mates and careers. While American bakeries always have something new and interesting, Jerusalem bakeries rarely change their repertoire. Most Haredim minimalize change; their wedding menu is as predictable as their apparel. Similar conservative attitudes, clinging to one's own holy chevra, and rejecting most of the rest of the world, characterize all religionists who are convinced that only their way is God's Will-- tradition is taken literally, their understanding of God's world is clear, and they feel in control of most of their lives, with God's help. Pluralism and doubt are intolerable to such folks, e.g. Satmar, Khoumani and Bible Belt preachers, l'havdil squared; but their twisting truth and logic to serve their faith and denigrate that of others may itself be a rejection of the God of Fearless Truth (see BIBLE BELIEVERS, Fundamentalists in the Modern World, N. Ammerman, Rutgers-- cf. Shalom Freedman's Kohelet-like Life As Creation, Aaronson 1993, permeated by the opposite conviction-- that honest creative search, doubt and sensitivity are the best route to true faith in God and self-understanding. Walter Kaufman's "The Faith of a Heretic" is a clear elaboration of this theme).
Post-Manna Israel must now also recognize God's active benevolent Will amidst the natural conditions of Israel-- He's the source of normal food and drink too (N. Leibowitz). Jewish garments remained in good shape throughout the 40 year trek, due to Divine Cloud Cleaning & Pressing, and infinitely stretchable children's garments (S.S. Rabah 23); alternatively, they took lots of clothes from Egypt, and the manna included anti-perspirant (Ibn Ezra). Their feet were A-1, despite the long march (cf. Tzahal). All these wonders were Divine spirit building exercises.
Moshe warns of 2 potential sources of Israeli overconfidence and lack of faith in God (N. Leibowitz): 1) The pleasures and wealth of the land-- plentiful top quality fruit, oil, wine, etc., besides natural resources, e.g. iron and copper. This can lead to worship of nature (and science?), forgetting the Essence and Will of God, above and behind the laws of nature. The remedy-- praise God AFTER a satisfying meal of any of the 7 species, or of bread of grains associated with them (Sefer Hachinuch 428): YOU SHALL EAT AND BE SATISFIED AND BLESS GOD YOUR LORD FOR THE GOOD LAND WHICH HE'S GIVEN YOU (8:10); "...and all children of flesh (big eaters!) shall call on Your Name" (from the eschatological Alenu prayer). The rabbis commanded grace even when one's not satisfied (Ber. 20b); but Baruch Walters recommends eating large meals, to ensure that one's grace is a Torah fulfillment! Our appreciation then enables God to do His favorite thing-- to bestow more good upon us (Sefer Hachinuch). FOR THE GOOD LAND....-- remind yourself that true satisfaction will be the Jew's lot only in Israel; it's produce nourishes the soul too. The Vilna Gaon translates our blessing over bread: "Blessed are You... who brings forth bread (sustenance for the whole world) from The Land (of Israel-- the fate of mankind depends upon the Jewish people setting up a true Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation in Israel, their mission given in Ex. 19:6; as prayers rise to Heaven via Jerusalem, so blessing to all lands descends from heaven via the Holy Land)".
One acquires a Divine perspective in the land "where God's eyes are constantly found" (11:12, per Rav M. Sheinberger). So the rabbis added introductory Zionist Psalms to the thankful blessings after meals-- they remind the Jew, comfortable after a big glatt meal in Boro Park or Crown Heights, that he really doesn't belong there. After every dutifully mournful (but hypocriticl?) Tisha B' Av abroad, bewailing our exile and Israel's former desolation, the sexton should proclaim: "One way to Tel Aviv, $700!".
2) Self-satisfaction, worship of Man's power, displaces reliance upon God (cf. USSR); houses and possessions increase, as the ignominy of Egypt recedes into the unconscious. Blessings over his food remind man that God bestows his land and all his powers of technology, including agriculture. The Jews must constantly recall their desert trek, without normal food and water, yet free of the usual creepy-crawly creatures; they were then obviously helpless without God. One must never say, even to oneself: "It was my strength and personal power that brought me all this prosperity; but remember God your Lord, for it is He Who gives you power to get wealth" (8:17); His purpose in granting Jewish power is to enable the Jews to have the wherewithal to adhere to their unique eternal Israeli Torah covenant. There is no special RACIAL protektzia for the Jew; if he acts immorally in Israel, he too will be expelled or punished (cf. today). So, in the end of days, even the wicked power seekers will recognize that true power only accompanies one's connection to God, Source of all power-- "that all the wicked of the earth turn to You" (from the Alenu prayer).
So victorious Jews must acknowledge God's indispensible aid; they're not themselves righteous enough to be entitled to Israel-- it's given them only to satisfy God's pledge to the patriarchs. Eviction of the wicked Canaanite nations is to be a warning to Israel, not a source of pride; Moshe again reviews Israel's stubbornness and desert sins. Tho God GENERALLY loves the Jews, this does NOT apply to such a bad generation; however, it was time for God's promises to the patriarchs to be fulfilled (Ramban).
Moshe now recreates Sinai's Revelation and God's wonderful gift of 2 Divine tablets, after all his headaches from the Jews; Israel's alternative, the Golden Calf Disco, endangered their survival (cf. Eilat, profane Israeli entertainment and art, and secular "Oneg Shabbat"s at the Reform movement's Bet Shmuel); God offered Moshe an alternative new greater nation of his own pupils and descendants; he'd then be Moshe Our Patriarch too, not just Moshe Our Teacher. Moshe refused the offer and went down to appraise the situation; one hesitates to predict today's response to such a Divine proposition in some "religious" circles, who join our enemies. Moshe, viewing the debacle, decided to smash the God-given tablets, given Israel's low level; such a direct covenant would be so strong that Jews would die for even its slightest rejection (one of Ramban's explanations). Moshe returned to God at once (17 Tamuz) and prayed to avert Israel's destruction-- for 40 days and nights, without eating or drinking; he stressed God's promise to the patriarchs, and the effects on God's Good Name, should his Chosen People fail in their mission. On Av 29, God, PLACATED, authorized him to bring new tablets; he spent another 40 days and nights on Sinai, working on them; he returned with them, amidst God's JOYFUL RECONCILIATION with Israel, on Yom Kippur (Rashi, 9:18).
Moshe reminds Israel that he interrupted his own closest moment with God to deal with their backsliding; aloof leaders, deeply immersed in Torah, while the Jewish people is leaving it, are held responsible for the subsequent debacles (cf. today's yeshivot; there's no information booth at the Wall). One must tithe one's time as well as his money (Rav Moshe Feinstein). In Toldos Yaakov Yosef, the first Chassidic anti-establishment broadside, Rav Yaakov of Polania lambasted the scholarly, but aloof, rabbis of his day; today some such rabbis even lambast others who do reach out to the masses. Some chief rabbis have been only an obstacle to our efforts to spread Torah; yet they do virtually no outreach themselves, despite their ample budgets. Perhaps they should be left to direct ritual, while more outgoing rabbis present Torah to the public. Jerusalem has many wonderful candidates, e.g. Rabbis Adler, Cardozo, Dolgin, Gellman, Gold, Rafkefet and Steinsaltz. Moshe briefly reminds Israel of where they sinned, omitting the less severe pre-Sinai sins; he's told to make an ark for the tablets (10:1). This pre-tabernacle ark was temporary, OR for the broken tablets, OR permanent, but only later goldplated for the tabernacle (see Ramban, Rashi, Malbim).
This travelogue stresses that Aharon survived close to the end-- w/o Moshe's prayers, God would have killed him on the Calfian spot (Ibn Ezra). Loving gentle Rabbi Aharon, tolerant of Israel's sins, is only saved by stricter judgemental Rabbi Moshe (cf. the rabbis in C. Grade's works); yet, on other occasions, Moshe is criticized for being too critical. A leader must be ultra-sensitive to the physical and psychological realities of his flock, to know when and how to apply God's rules-- Vol. 5 of the Shulchan Orach is common sense (Rav C. Lifshitz); the posek, religious authority, applies the rules in the context of a unique real situation and sociological gestalt. Different poskim may, by training and background, be suitable for different communities, tho in the same city (e.g. Satmar and Y.U.). In our age of easy global communication, one might look to a great Torah scholar OUTSIDE one's community as one's kindred soul guide, e.g. the late Lubavitcher Rebbe or Rav Soloveichik, Z"tzl. Even a "chief" rabbi should not impose his outlook upon sub-communities, who don't identify with him (cf. Jerusalem today). The sequence of travel stops here may be out of order, suggesting that the Jews backtracked 8 stations at one point, aiming to return to the old country (Rashi, 10:6; Ralbag). Moshe recalls the choice of the Levites, who didn't take part in the golden calf sin (except their leader Aharon!). Tho they have no portion in the land, they fought yerida at Bnai Yaakan Wells.
Moshe summarizes: NOW ISRAEL-- WHAT DOES GOD ASK OF YOU? JUST(!) TO HAVE AWE OF GOD YOUR LORD, TO GO IN ALL HIS WAYS, AND TO LOVE HIM, AND TO WORSHIP GOD YOUR LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL. TO GUARD GOD'S COMMANDMENTS AND STATUTES, WHICH I COMMAND YOU THIS DAY, FOR YOUR BENEFIT (10:12- 13). How can this colossal demand be labelled "JUST"? Rashi: JUST THIS, following God, moral success, is demanded of human free will-- everything else remains in God's hands (of course, much of doing God's Will involves worldly acts, such as teaching one's son a profession, helping the poor, guarding one's life with roof fences, swimming lessons, no smoking, etc). Perhaps God demands LESS worldly development of ISRAEL, as Levite-like priests to mankind; Portugal can develop the perfect orange and the U.S. the best jet to bring people to Jerusalem, spiritual university of the world. Ramban: JUST refers to FOR YOUR BENEFIT; God demands all this ONLY for our own ultimate good. Albo claims that God JUST wants the Jews to learn and obey His Torah; they're not to worry about independently reaching Divine Intimacy-- leave your highs to God (a philosophical precursor to traditional misnagdic Ashkenazic Judaism). Like Saadya, he rejects reincarnation, basic to the later Zohar and Ari. He translates: INSTEAD OF TO ACQUIRE (directly) AWE OF GOD.... JUST TO GUARD HIS COMMANDS...
Moshe reminds Israel of their intimacy with universal God. Should they "circumcise their heart barriers", they'd realize the connection between God's unlimited power and His concerned mercy toward those most helpless; their Egyptian sojourn was to develop empathy with strangers. To Shlomo Carlebach, Z"tzl, no human being was a stranger; all were his brothers and sisters, God our common Father. Our common existential position, indeed, is that we're all "strangers", temporary sojourners, in this world of transient physical pseudo-reality, between idyllic Eden and idyllic Eternity. HAVE AWE OF GOD YOUR LORD, SERVE HIM, CLEAVE TO HIM, AND SWEAR WITH HIS NAME (10:20-- cf. Albo above). Rambam: swearing by God's name is a mitzva; Ramban disagrees-- better not to swear at all; the verse is a metaphor-- involve God in every realm of life. Only those with AWE, etc. may so swear (Tanchuma).
Moshe warns the Jews to first develop their own Divine awareness-- only then can and must they transmit it to their kids, who won't experience such open Revelation and miracles (and thus, if secular, are not considered heretics, but "captured" by their times, per Chazan Ish). So one clings to God by clinging to holy people (cf. Megama's ? in our Jerusalem Jam video-- "Who will be my children's zaide if not me?"). Survival in Israel depends on Israel's connection to God, Who Himself directly gives rain there, unlike Egypt, inundated by the Nile. Universal well-being is a by-product of Divine care of Israel (Rashi & Ramban on 11:12-- see Vilna Gaon above).
SHMA, Sec. II (11:13-21), deals with objective Torah observance, the source of national blessing and curse-- it's written in the plural; Sec. I, read last week, speaks of subjective religious experience and relationship to God-- it's in the singular, not linked to reward and punishment. Ramban links communal destiny to its predominant religious tone. Tefillin, mezzuzot, and Torah study are really Israeli matters, only commanded in exile as rehearsal (Sifre, Rashi). Our Exile homes are only temporary abodes-- we can't really concentrate on tefillin there (Maharal). Our lives and those of our children shall truly endure only in Israel's secure borders-- IF our conquest is by those deeply committed to a land of "heaven upon earth". No one will oppose this sincere ideal. If Israel shapes up, the arabs may fall into line, becoming our Noachide partners in building Israel. We must teach them their role in Torah's Messianic dream, never supplanted by Islam (Yoel Schwartz's work on the 7 Laws of Noah, our universal religion, is also available in Arabic).
We close Sec. II: THAT YOUR DAYS, AS WELL AS YOUR CHILDREN'S DAYS, BE MANY UPON THE LAND WHICH GOD SWORE TO GIVE YOUR FATHERS, AS DAYS OF HEAVEN UPON EARTH (11:21)-- you may be somewhat sure of your Jewish future anywhere, e.g. Sharansky in Siberia; the chances of your distant descendants remaining so are probably much better in Israel (Marx comes from Rashi; see The Children of Abraham, Marek Halter). Yet there's a limit to our ability to predict the future; tho a wise man can predict future events naturally evolving from present phenomena (see the dialogue between Alexander of Macedon and the elders of the south country in Tamid 32a; one becomes wise by learning from everyone, per Ben Zoma, Avot 4:1), few of us can foresee the distant future or understand the patterns of thought and feeling of those in distant cultures; but prophets, inspired by God, indeed predicted the fall and rise of the Jewish people thousands of years ago. The existence of the State of Israel is one of the best proofs of the divinity of the O.T.
In writing these studies, I'm constantly torn between trying to relate to what's going on in the here-and-now and yet remaining relevant to those living in a changed future there-and-then, maybe even after my lifetime. Perhaps we should all focus on doing the most we can to improve that small slice of time and space, into which God has placed us, and leave the future and eternal effects to Him; yet Esther wanted her contemporary headline story, her letter, to be canonized, to enter the Only Testament, the book of eternal messages, relevant in every time and place. Translating your work to Hebrew, the eternal tongue, may better your chances to acquire eternal readership-- was Esther's original letter in Hebrew?
C. HEEL & SOUL
The second word in our reading, "Akev" (heel) refers to heeding the law, even in its SEEMINGLY MINOR commandments, usually "trod under the heel" (Mid. Tan.); cf. Avot 2:1: "BE DILIGENT WITH A MINOR MITZVAH AS WITH A MAJOR ONE"; Rambam's example is to speak Hebrew-- Arabic, a corrupted Hebrew, may be holier than other languages, much further removed from the Holy Tongue (see The Word, I. Mozeson, may he speedily recover at Hadassah Ein Kerem, and his TOP video). But OPTIONAL pietistic practices should NOT be elevated to the status of commandments; it is FORBIDDEN to do them before fulfilling ALL obligatory mitzvos of God (Avraham b. Maimon, who considers this "bribing" God-- P. 147 in The High Ways of Perfection, translated by S. Rosenblatt -- no dessert before the meal!).
After 120 years, God probably won't ask a Jew why he never studied mysticism; but He's likely to ask her why she never even read the entire Bible! Should returnees, who haven't read Samuel, Kings, and Kohelot, expend much time and energy on the intricate s'firot, a ?able infringement on Divine Unity? The opening words "akeV TiSHmaoon" hint at observance of the entire Torah; AKEV = 172, the number of words in the original 10 DECLARATIONS, its quintessence. The letters of Sha-ba-t, also considered the quintessence of Torah, are found together within these opening words-- Panaach Razeh; he introduces Akev: "With the aid of He who gives the produce of the threshing floor and winepress, we shall begin Akev"-- a major undertone of our portion is indeed "eating"! It deals with crops, manna, and "consumption" of the enemy (cf. Packman).
AKEV is also a metaphor for an end or result. David warns people immersed in worldly pursuits of their end-- WHY SHOULD I BE AFRAID IN THE EVIL DAYS; THE SIN OF MY HEELS ("akevai", or THOSE ON MY HEELS, my pursuers) SURROUNDS ME (Ps. 49, recited in the house of mourning, v. 6). He doesn't fear lack of great material success in his "evil days", old age; his only true concern is his eternal future. The long term ignoring of seemingly minor mitzvos ("akavei") will then be seen as having devestated one's total religious personality (Hirsch; so family therapy raises one's consciousness of the cumulative effect on others of his semi-conscious attitudes and daily non-dramatic destructive behavior). Yaakov's name refers to his grabbing the heel, the end, of Esav-- the realization of Isral's messianic destiny is far off; then Esavian western civilization will plunge into existential bankruptcy, accepting Yaakov as their guide to God's Will. AFTER THAT CAME OUT HIS BROTHER (Yaakov) AND HIS HAND GRABS (present tense,in every age) ESAV'S HEEL, AND HE CALLED HIS NAME YAAKOV... (Gen. 25:26-- cf. Is. 2, Ovadia).
The portion's first two words, V'HAYA AKEV, seem superfluous. The Torah could just say IF YOU WILL HEED.... Ohr Hachayim translates: "ALL WILL BE GREAT IN THE END, IF YOU HEED THESE LAWS...". "V'haya", it will be, expresses ultimate joy; the sorry past will be transformed by the vov of powerful Divine action into a glorious future. Akev denotes the heel, the end, the Messianic era. Individual and communal happiness are linked to the insightful observance of God's laws; true unmitigated joy will only prevail when all of mankind returns to Eden, via restored Jerusalem.
D. WHY THESE 7 SPECIES?
God gives the Jews Israel-- A LAND OF WHEAT AND BARLEY AND VINE AND FIG AND POMEGRANATE, A LAND OF OLIVE OIL AND (date) HONEY (8:8; healthy animals were mentioned earlier). These 7 choice species are God's special gift to Avraham's descendants, a reward for his "feeding" God's disguised angels (Mid. Raba-- Gen. 48:10, Ecc. 11:11, Lev. 25:4). The last source stresses that God carries out His promise thru Jewish action-- WHEN YOU WILL COME INTO THE LAND YOU SHALL PLANT ALL MANNER OF TREES FOR FOOD (Lev. 19:23). Lev. Rab. 25:1 equates this planting with teaching Torah, the tree of life (Prov. 3:18) of Eden (Ibn Ezra, Gen. 2:9).
All 7 species serve as natural measures for minimum quantities required for violation of ritual laws (R. Hanin; Eruv. 4a, Suk. 5b)-- even the produce of Israel teaches God's Torah (R. Simcha Wasserman, z"tzl)! This concept may be an attempt to explain why these 7 species are so special-- 85% of my pupils preferred oranges and apples to pomegranates and figs! Rav G. Fleer speculates that once all Jews return and Israel's fully developed, these 7 species will be spectacularly superior to all other food. Batsheva Mink of H.U. Botanical Gardens observed that only these species, indigenous to Israel, can naturally survive drought and pests; some macrobiotics urge one to primarily consume produce native to his domicile. Each grows best in a different part of Israel, e.g. dates in the Jordan Rift, grapes in the hills, pomegranates along the coast. Figs, grapes and dates, naturally easily dried, were among the best snack foods and sources of energy in a pre-sugarian age.
Only quality produce of the 7 species can be brought as first fruit offerings (Men. 84a, Bik. 1:3, Pes. 53a). Hul. 20b deals with the laws of the liquids of the 7 species, Bikurim 3 with the details of bringing them as first fruits. They're the source of all laws of blessings upon the joys of food and drink (Ber. 35a). R. Judah gives precedence to blessings upon food of the 7 species (40b); their position in 8:10 determines their internal order of importance (41b). Their special blessings are set forth in 44a.
Intuitively following Jewish tradition, the Zionist Movement (JNF) has replanted Israel; it again gives abundant fruit after being a virtual desert for most of our 1900 year exile. Tho pines are pretty, huge public forests of the 7 species would enhance Israel's Biblical ambiance and provide wholesome free food for the poor-- but they need much more care and flat areas with access roads-- unless there's mass spraying, the fruit trees bring loads of fruit flies, ruining the areas for hiking. In replanting after the Jerusalem forest fires, the JNF intends to introduce many figs and pomegranates, tho date palms are more problematic-- they require irrigation in their initial stages of growth and will not grow well in Jerusalem's cold climate. Olives basically grow best in the area of Asher, need frequent trimming, and give fruit which is edible only with elaborate preparation. While Canary palms are virtually fire-proof, they require deeper topsoil than is available in most of the Jerusalem forest area. JNF has not planted the Jerusalem pine for 20 years, preferring local trees, e.g. Aleppo pines, cedars, spruces and cypresses, which grow much faster than fruit trees (except figs).
But deciduous, tho delicious, trees can cause problems of soil erosion and lack of shade during a good part of the year-- the umbrella of foliage breaks the erosive strength of storms; among the 7 species, only the olive is an evergreen fruit. This info is culled from tall talmudist-agronomist-winemaker Yaakov Gelobter (33, who seeks an observant outdoorsy wife with a pioneering spirit; he'll try to answer your ?? on Torah and science, tel. 02-9961469 or 052-396-435), and from JNF's sophisticated chief Jerusalem forest ranger, Yose Sapir; his efforts kept the forest fire from reaching Bet Meir two years ago, tho winds and birds on fire carried it across the highway; JNF had warned the builders of Shoresh to keep their homes some distance from the forest. Unfortunately, Israel has no Super-Cropper fire fighting aircraft (Caifornia has 5).
The 7 species are stressed on Tu B'Shvat. Many identify the tree of knowledge of good and evil with one of the 7; some say it blended their tastes. If we eat the 7 in holy fashion, we redeem them from Adam's abuse! So Shavuot Torah learning rectifies sins involving first fruits (R. Tzadok Hacohen; cf. G. Fleer above). Perhaps one imbibes the superior wisdom of Israel in eating its 7 fruits! Palestineans are allegedly the brightest arabs! The 7 species may be extolled as reminders of Israel's entry into the holy land, just as matza and maror revive Exodus (Nigel Wallis). In a brilliant essay (Nature In Our Biblical Heritage, P. 30), Nogah Reuveni notes that these 7 species were not necessarily the choicest fruits of Israel. Yaakov sends a different gift of choice fruits in Gen. 43:11. These 7 fruits and grains require opposite conditions of rain and wind for their survival, leading Canaanite pagans to conclude that nature is controlled by a multiplicity of competing forces, gods. The Jew is to bring just these 7 species for his first fruit offering to God-- a proclamation that He controls all natural forces; if the Jews do His Will, he'll bless them with perfect timing of the various winds, so that all 7 species will prosper (see our Ki Savo study).
E. TRIVIAL PURSUITS, BY TRIVIAL PURSUERS
Moshe FIRST builds Jewish self-confidence; he then warns of too much self confidence by potential cocky wealthy Jewish victors; in dealing with any broken person, we must FIRST build him up; later we'll worry about possible exaggerations of his new-found confidence (cf. Tzahal; God fells the proud and raises aloft he who has fallen, tho once proud-- from the "ezrat avotenu" morning prayer; cf. Ps. 138:6, 1S2:4-10). A non-simplistic Talmudic perspective always balances positions, giving each its due (see Ascent To Harmony, Munk); inquisitorial condemnation of great prolific teachers, stressing only slight mistakes or slips of the tongue and pen, is also non-talmudic, thus non-Jewish. One truly imbued with both the peace and truth of the talmud would never single out another's error, without simultaneously praising her for all her good works. So Michael Kaniel, while strongly disagreeing with certain positions of Rav Riskin, introduced his criticism with a prayer that God bless him for all his good work. But a very formal pietistic rabbi, z"l, launched an angry diatribe against our free-wheeling studies for referring to Hirsch as "H" to save space! Rav J. Soloveichik identified the man as a longtime fanatic.
In every age, decisive and dedicated scholars integrated Torah with contemporary world views, rescuing it from oblivion; they were often condemned by "grandpa's army"-- angry, often constipated, personalities, fixated on obsolete ineffective approaches to Torah teaching. Innovative teachers will continue to inspire Israel, long after their less creative critics are gone and forgotten, e.g. Saadya, Rambam's Guide, The Beshtian School, Ramchal-- many were excommunicated, their works often banned and burnt, and some were even threatened with death and imprisonment; cf. Rabbis Riskin, Schneerson, and Steinsaltz today. Critics of the Rebbe were right in condemning his Deification-Meshiachization by Habad and their overstress on Moshiach, rather than God. Yet no one would even imagine that any of the rebbe's critics was himself great enough to be Moshiach! We must emulate God; He's always on the side of the persecuted, e.g. His People; the lamb, pursued by the wolf, violent nations, is His desired object of sacrifice. GOD SEEKS THAT WHICH IS PURSUED (Ecc. 3:15)-- perhaps even when the righteous persecute the wicked; he promotes those who will be persecuted to greatness-- they represent Him (Lev. Raba 27:5; Ecc. Raba 3:15:1).
F. THE HAFTARA is Isaiah 49:14- 51:3
The Jews complain that God has abandoned them, after He sent OTHERS (e.g. angels) to console them in last week's haftara, Nachamu (cf. the parent of a son in jail, who tells his secretary to send him bail, without a note from Dad). So Moshe obtained atonement from the Calf sin, and God's promise of material and martial success in Israel-- the secular Zionist dream. But Israel was crestfallen-- they want God IN THEIR MIDST (only in THEIR midst?-- see Ber. 7a), the religious Zionist dream (Ex. 33:3f, 13f). God responds that He has not divorced Israel, and portrays their true FUTURE reconciliation: WHEN GOD WILL HAVE COMFORTED ZION, HE WILL HAVE COMFORTED ALL THEIR RUINS AND MADE HER DESERT (the Negev?) AS EDEN AND HER WILDERNESS AS A GARDEN OF GOD. JOY AND GLADNESS WILL BE FOUND IN HER, THANKSGIVING AND THE VOICE OF SONG (51:3). After 5 more haftaras, these promises are depicted as fully realized. Israel had gone so far away from God that they didn't even experience His "back", a suggestion of His essence, leave alone His "face", His clear essence. So He tells them "haster aster panay"-- I'll doubly hide my face; so He must tell their comfortors to doubly comfort them, when they're so far from Him: "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami"-- comfort you, comfort you, my people (Rav M. Sheinberger).
G. THE GOOD-HARD, BROAD-NARROW, LAND
Ramban defines "a good land" (8:7)-- one whose "air" or "atmosphere" is good for its inhabitants (Ex. 3:8, Num. 14:7); per Rav J. Soloveichik, BECAUSE Israel isn't objectively "good" (rich and fertile), it's "good FOR MAN"!-- it only yields crops with lots of prayer, good deeds, and hard work, e.g. irrigation (11:10-12), unlike Egypt, where water is always obtainable by simply directing it with one's feet (11:10). So Israelis, toughened by years of developing Israel, while simultaneously battling arabs and corrupt socialist economic systems, often take off in the free-wheeling US economy (cf. M. Riklis). Rashi gives the opposite interpretation-- you have to work hard and get your feet dirty to grow crops in Egypt; in Israel, you can sit on the porch and learn, while God waters your crops with rain! Rav JBS, following Ramban's exposition of "a good land", expounded "a broad land"-- Israel broadens one's personality because it's NOT so broad; its variegated topography develops every facet of the personality-- as Israelis frequently tour its limited area, they become a blend of sea men, plains men, mountain men, and desert men.
RAV YEHUDA HENKIN comments: God's constantly involved in Israel's affairs-- "a land which God your Lord looks after; God your Lord's attention is always on it..." (11:12). If Israelis turn to idols, God turns off the faucet upstairs and crops will fail: "... you'll quickly vanish from the GOOD land which God's giving you" (11:17)-- even when its sinful inhabitants are starving, Israel's called the "good land"! That's part of its goodness!-- Divine Providence openly rewards and punishes there. Isaiah agrees with Israel's first complaint-- "God has abandoned me (to my enemies)"; he rejects the second: "God has forgotten me"-- "can a woman forget her infant?...". Even His apparent "abandoning" of Israel SHOWS that He's NOT forgotten them. It's part of the redemptive process.
R. Akiva laughed as foxes roamed the abandoned Temple Mount, a prophecy that had to be fulfilled before our redemption-- another few thousand years and all will be well (but he unsuccessfully sought immediate redemption via Bar Kochba's Tzahal, which ended in tragic exile-- should rabbis engage in politics?). "Your rod and Your staff comfort me" (Ps. 23)-- God's rod of punishment (cf. Is. 10:6) can also be a comfort, for it shows that He's not forgotten us. Retribution is a sign of caring; laissez-faire parents are indifferent parents. God chastises the righteous in this world for their sins, the wicked in the hereafter, after a bit of worldly reward for their few good deeds (Yev. 121b; Lev. Raba 27:1; Sifre Haazinu 307-- see our V'etchanan study, Theodicy & Syncretism); likewise Israel is to be the most righteous among the nations, and is thus judged strictly thruout history-- "I've known (intimately) only you from all families of the earth; therefore I have counted all your sins against you" (Amos 3:2; cf. Ber. 7a). Punishment stops our self-destructive sin. Life is hard-- would it be otherwise, we'd never shape up. Yet God promises us good and kindness all the days of our lives-- Ps. 23; they, good and kindness, even pursue man, who is always fleeing the potential for good and kindness latent in every situation (The Kotzker). Henkin might translate: "Indeed it's with goodness and mercy that He pursues me all the days of my life, that I shall dwell in God's House in the length of days"-- the world to come.
H. BLESSED BREAD
Rav Soloveichik notes bread's importance in Judaism, e.g. the long prayers after meals with bread; its blessing automatically includes other foods accompanying it. Yet SOMETIMES bread is subsidiary to other foods-- the blessing over an anchovy at a cocktail party includes its bread base (Ber. 44a)! Today, most of us would rather forsake our bread than our meat and potatoes-- so why not treat most bread as ancillary? Rashi indeed implies that subjective preference is the sole criteria of food's relative importance; but Tosafot applies this rule to bread only when its SOLE function is to mitigate the anchovy's saltiness, etc. Rav JBS contends that bread has inherently greater status-- man often consumes all other foods raw, as animals do. Grain products, bread their highest form, are not eaten raw, but highly processed, by man. God has designed them for man's essential diet, building intelligence-- its product, technology, begins with man growing grain and turning it into bread. While rice and corn are acceptable substitutes for wheat and barley from a nutritional standpoint, they cannot naturally ferment, turn starch into sugar, to make beer; they cannot become bread, lacking gluton to form balloons, together with co2 from yeast, to make the dough rise.
FEAST (G. Post-- Harper 1992) is a delightful overview of the meaning and importance of bread in religion, society and literature; tho not written from a Jewish perspective, it draws upon some Jewish sources, and poignantly expresses many Jewish teachings in contemporary lingo. A taste of the Feast:
Nothing says "home" more appealingly than the earthly frankincense of bread fresh from the oven. A peasant comes home from the field, and the promise reaches out through the open door. A stockbroker returns in the evening to his high-rise condo and finds it transformed by the same miracle of basic domesticity. The second example is less likely than the first, but, thanks be to God, still possible. Mennonites tell us that the surest way to sell a house is to have bread baking in the kitchen, when prospective buyers arrive. The aroma of bread triggers a mood of shelter and sanctuary. Perhaps that is why it welcomes so warmly those who are away from home, be they dinner guests from across town or wayfarers from a distant land.
Bread is hope, bread is encouragement, bread is strength. Bread never speaks of the grave, is not sentimental about despair. Even a stale ration of this mystery can, crust by crust, wage a valiant campaign against starvation. More than once, during life in the camps, Shukov had recalled the way they used to eat in his village: whole pots full of potatoes, pans of oatmeal, and, in the early days, big chunks of meat. And milk enough to bust their guts. That wasn't the way to eat, he learned in camp. You had to eat with all your mind on the food-- like now, nibbling the bread bit by bit, working the crumbs up into a paste with your tongue, and sucking it into your cheeks. And how good it tasted-- that soggy black bread!
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
I don't think I ever met anybody who didn't like the taste of bread. I have known persons to give it up in order to lose weight (a questionable method, unless a physician prescribes), but those individuals, in common with celibates, knew that they were abstaining from something delectable. We can make a fair assumption that our peasant coming in from the field, though he be lusting for his wife, will follow his nose to the table before he follows his lust to the bed. That presumably would be the sequence with our stockbroker as well, no matter how topsy-turvy are modern lives. The choreography of these gratifications has more to do with primal instinct than cultural habit. Although it is possible to remain celibate throughout one's life, one cannot go without nourishment for very long, if one wishes to stay alive. The Greek philosopher Democritus is said to have proposed that the very smelling of hot bread could add to a person's longevity. Literature down through the ages has celebrated bread as the lifegiver that it is. This recurring metaphor-- bread as life itself-- is so powerful that our contemporary literature, much of which has embraced despair as its theme, continues to honor it. That Holy Scripture and other literature should coincide on this matter ought not to surprise us, for truth perpetuates its own aesthetics.
In one of Raymond Carver's short stories (A Small, Good Thing), conflict erupts between a baker and a couple whose child has died, as a result of an accident. The mother has not picked up the birthday cake she ordered for the child, and the baker, unaware of the intervening tragedy, makes harassing telephone calls. Tension increases because he does not identify himself. When the mother finally realizes who the caller is, she and her husband drive to the shopping center for a midnight confrontation. THe baker does more than back down, does more than express sympathy, he begs forgiveness. He becomes flesh and blood. "You probably need to eat something," the baker said. "I hope you'll eat some of my rolls. you have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small good thing in a time like this," he said. He served them cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, the icing still runny. He put butter on the table and knives to spread the butter. Then the baker sat down at the table with them. He waited. He waited until they each took a roll from the platter and began to eat. "It's good to eat something," he said, watching them. "There's more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There's all the rolls in the world in here." They ate rolls and drank coffee. Ann was suddenly hungry, and the rolls were warm and sweet. She ate three of them, which pleased the baker (cf. feeding the mourners in Judaism).
Then he began to talk. They listened carefully. Although they were tired and in anguish, they listened to what the baker had to say. They nodded when the baker began to speak of loneliness, and of the sense of doubt and limitation that had come to him in his middle years. He told them what it was like to be childless all these years. To repeat the days, with the ovens endlessly full and endlessly empty. The party food, the celebrations he'd worked over. Icing knuckle-deep. The wedding couples stuck into cakes. Hundreds of them, no, thousands of them. Birthdays. Just imagine all thoe candles burning. He had a necessary trade. He was a baker. He was glad he wasn't a florist. It was better to be feeding people. This was a better smell anytime than flowers. "Smell this," the baker said, breaking open a dark loaf. "It's a heavy bread, but rich." They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight, under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the window, and they did not think of leaving.
Within hours after a death, in many neighborhoods, friends are likely to drop by with gifts of food. This practice might be losing ground in our society, but I can remember that the women of my childhood got down to serious cake baking when death paid a visit nearby. I remember wondering: "Why gifts of food when people are sad?" Food-cakes especially-seemed festive and out of place in an atmosphere of grief. Not until I was thirty-five, when my mother died, and a procession of turkey and ham and casseroles invaded the house, did the custom make sense. Out-of-town guests were to be fed. My family was relieved of heavy cooking, and, in the practicality of it all, there wa no delicatessen expense. Furthermore-- and this came as rather a surprise-- I found that I was hungry. I remember another death in the family, when my daughter and I came in from the funeral and, after declaring we weren't hungry, went straight to the kitchen and devoured newly arrived peas, one entire offering, straight from the bowl.
"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear," wrote C.S. Lewis, describing, in A Grief Observed, the dark tunnel through which he passed, after the death of his wife. The sentence startles with its rightness. The sensation of grief is like fear, we know, those of us who have lost loved ones. Grief, fear, depression. These emotions are closely related and are common to all of our journeys. Holy Scripture, in contrast to its mighty array of wonders and miracles, zooms in revealingly on difficult human situations. Its majestic phrasing never glosses over the low points in the lives of its heroes. The prophet Elijah became so fearful under Jezebel's threat that he sat down and wished for death. That is depression at its most articulate level.
When he reached Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there and himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came upon a broombush, and sat down under it and prayed for death... He lay down under the bush and, while he slept, an angel touched him and said: "Rise and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a pitcher of water. He ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came again and touched him a second time, saying:" Rise and eat; the journey is too much for you." He rose and ate and drank and, sustained by this food, he went on for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God-- 1 Kings 19:3-8. Had the destination bannered less symbolism, that's still not bad mileage for a cake baked on hot stones.
We are dealing with generic terminology, of course. Let us hope that "our daily bread" includes meat and potatoes and other components of a well-balanced diet. But, in line with biblical precedent, these reflections employ the staple foodstuff to represent the whole gamut of things to eat and drink. For some reason in the mind of God, bread addresses human hunger wth greater pertinence than any other food. Had Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables stolen a bowl of stew to save his sister's child from starvation, the drama would have been lessened. That the theft was of bread added compass to the novel, as surely as did the volume of pages. One of the last entries in The Journals of John Cheever ties right in with our theme. "Feeling that I have conquered cancer, I stroll around the house. A loaf of bread is needed, and I will search for one. What more simple and universal pursuit could there be than a man looking for a new loaf of bread?... For me the bakery is the heart-- and sometimes the soul-- of a village!" Nowhere did Cheever, the accomplished fiction writer, express his insights more deeply (or his quandries more poignantly) than in the account of his personal life. Because this focus on bread appears when death is closing in, it achieves the solemnity of a testament.
Bread and the sweat of the brow have always been affiliated, and the concept of tender is an outcome of the association. That is why bread and money are sometimes interchangeable terms in the idiom of the streets. The relationship is taut enough to prevent confusion, yet even the sidewalk philosopher knows that in the long run bread is more valuable than money. The man who falls into an abandoned mine shaft and will not be rescued for days would do better to have with him a loaf of bread than a checkbook. In dire situations, nourishment is the wealth that finance is not.
Psalm 136, the Great Hallel, was designed to be sung antiphonally in the temple. A liturgical psalm if there ever was one, it is repetitive and monotonous, unless we discipline our minds to the text and involve our imaginations in the history it recounts. If we catch it like a wave and ride it, we find that the pulsing interruptions of praise actually sustain the theme as it gathers and swells toward what is surely one of the loftiest peaks in Holy Scripture.
Give thanks to the God of gods;
Give thanks to the Lord of lords;
In wisdom he made the heavens;
He laid the earth upon the waters;
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
He gives food to all his creatures;
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
One danger in the reading of this psalm is to commemorate the mighty acts of God that constitute the buildup, and then to dismiss the pinnacle as anti-climactic. He gives food to all his creatures: If that is ho-hum, we ought to fast a good long fast and come back prepared and read the psalm again. Import does not wane in the final four lines, and the concluding call for thanksgiving is not there for purely structural purposes. The writer knew what he was doing. Just as an entertainer saves the best for last, and just as the novelist does not reveal where all is leading until the end, a poet chooses very carefully the words that will (as T.S. Elliot phrased in "Burnt Norton") "reach into the silence."
God's feeding of his creatures is not a lesser act than creation or redemption. It is an enterprise of the same energy from which those movements flow. Creation is an onward event-- there is the child that is opening, the melody that is wooing the composer. Creation continues and redemption continues, but the act of feeding continues with a more insistent rhythm-- three meals a day for many of us-- and on a plane we can more easily comprehend. The goodness of God is not abstract when we sit down to eat. It doesn't have to be Trout Margery at Galatoire's in New Orleans. It can be a hamburger and fries... Grace is depicted before us, and of grace we partake. It is visible and tangible. It is tasty.
The Creator routinely meets us on a sensual level. Food is provided for our pleasure, as well as for our nourishment. Pleasure, along with every gift that comes down from God, is holy-- until indulged in outside his holy law, and then it becomes an end in itself, and not an avenue for His glory. There are warnings against gluttony, of course, just as there are warnings against that kindred selfishness called adultery. But we trip into the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, when we think of physical pleasure as having no spiritual substance. It is precisely because of imbedded spirituality that rules and signals are necessary. The believer who thinks of all physical pleasure as "worldy" blunders as profoundly as the hedonist. One misses the boat in one direction, the other in the other. When our focus is true, we can sing Lionel Bart's "Food, glorious Food" with the same gusto that the orphans sang it in the musical Oliver!
Joyful occasions are confirmed by food and beverage. A party just isn't a party without those ingredients. Tradition has much to do with it, but behind birthday cakes and shower mints and timely champagne is a natural propriety, from which the customs evolved. When we eat and drink, we enact a mystery that is basic to our continuance on earth. We do it with little thought in that direction, but, discerning ot not, we celebrate life by receiving into our mouths delicious tokens (more than we ought, sometimes) of that which we cannot exist without. Only to the believer would it make sense: Our joy is confirmed by a ritual signifying our dependency. Some or our warmest memories center around feasts. They are warm because the scenes are peopled with loved ones. Often the association between a dish and an individual is so direct that one is identified with the other. We are called to the feast, we are called to the fast. We are called to rejoice in the Lord, we are called to empathize with the hungry. The truths and admonitions Of Holy Scripture are time and again sharpened by counterpoint, and the believer must seek the tension, not shy from it, for only in a tug of war will the poise be found.
"Man does not live by bread alone"-- Deuteronomy 8:3
This statement is so familiar and worn that today we scarcely feel its original impact. Not only has casual quoting diluted the thought, modern applications often tend toward facetiousness; one does not live by bread alone-- one needs a little peanut butter and jelly on it (so we're to add salt or condiments to poor bread, so that we bless God for it sincerely). One needs this or that or the other, whatever the desire of the moment happens to be. While we might chuckle at some of the necessities proposed, we probably nod in agreement with the hope that "our daily bread" includes all components of a well-balanced diet. In either case, whether thru banality or levity, we enforce our ignorance of the import of that which is "other than bread".
The words were first taught to Israel early on. "And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know. nor did your fathers know, that he might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone".
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