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Not on Bread Alone: Eikev

Eikev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

A few verses into the weekly Parashah bring us to one of the most famous saying in Torah, tucked in the middle of one extraordinary verse:

God let you live in want and hunger, and then He fed you manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, in order to teach you that a human being does not live on bread alone; rather, one lives on all that comes from the mouth of the Eternal. [Deut. 8:3]

We live in perpetual “want and hunger.” The nature of our ego, of our separate sense of self, is that it is never satisfied. As soon as a desire is fulfilled, it already yearns for something else. Somehow, though we forever hope for a different ending, reality always falls short of our expectations. Even the taste of the best ice cream soon vanishes from our palate and leaves us miserable, trying to hold on to what is quickly receding in the past, and already craving more. Yet, against all evidence to the contrary, we keep insisting that our physical and intellectual experiences fill this gaping hole of our insatiable wanting and hungering. We still contend that bread—symbol of physical nourishment (body,) and of humanity’s ingenuity (mind,) creating food from manipulating the earth—can completely fulfill us. But the always-dissatisfied body-mind can never find contentment in its doings alone, i.e. the multiplication of experiences or the accumulation of things, ideas, concepts, or thoughts.

I often think of Life as a river. “The mouth of the Eternal,” “the mouth of YHVH” in Hebrew, is, for our mystics, the point from which all Creation emanates. The image in Torah is that YHVH “speaks” and Creation unfolds. The River of Life springs from the “mouth of YHVH,” it is YHVH. We, you and I, are born out of the River, no other than the River, never separate from the River. We follow our own distributary channel for a while, and when our meandering has run its course, we ultimately merge back into the main River stream. The separate sense of self—the illusion that our distributary channel exists independently of the River—tries to direct its stream, to dam it, to control it. In order to find the ever-eluding permanent satisfaction it craves, it resists the River of Life Itself.

But the hold that this “want and hunger,” this drive to “live on bread alone” seems to have over us, isn’t an inescapable destiny. All of us can yet realize that we, indeed, live “on all that comes from the mouth of the Eternal,” stop trying to tame the River, give up the exhausting ego-pursuit of swimming countercurrent, and finally surrender into the flow of Life, letting Life Itself guide us down the stream of our existence. God has given us the key to actualize such an awakening—mannaMah na?, “what is this?” in Hebrew, is the key to breaking free from this deluded perspective, this mistaken identity. God has “fed [us] manna,” given us the ability to question the validity of our assumptions. Who am I? What is aware? Are the beliefs that make up what I think of “me,” the world, humanity actually and absolutely true? Is this sense that I have complete personal agency real, or is it an illusion, a fiction in a seemingly dualistic world? Do I want to break free from a life of relentless “want and hunger”?

May we all find freedom. May we all find the unspeakable joy of finally swimming, at peace and content, with the stream of the River of Life.