By Avner Friedmann
Our Parsha states,”You shall remember the entire way along which HaShem your G-d led you these forty years in the wilderness so as to afflict you, to test you to know what is in your heart, to see if you shall observe His commandments or not. He afflicted you, starved you and fed you the manna which you and your forefathers knew not, in order to make known to you that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes out of the mouth of HaShem does man live.”
The experience in the desert taught us that HaShem provides for all who trust in Him. He sent our forefathers manna; a heavenly bread, never before experienced. The manna appeared like dew every morning except for Shabbat – and on Friday a double portion appeared. They always had exactly enough and if they kept some over, it would rot, so none was ever stored in reserve. This taught them that HaShem sustains all and to always put their trust in Him.
They were nourished by the manna for the forty years in the desert, “In order that I may test them, whether they will walk in My Torah or not” and “to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep His commandments or not.” This experience was a tremendous lesson in faith and trust.
The teachings of Chassidus give us deeper insight. The verse states: “In order to make known to you that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes out of the mouth of HaShem does man live.” Through the manna HaShem taught us that the sustenance does not come from the physicality of the bread. The physical food only provides the substance for the body which is a vessel for the spirituality. In His omnipotence, HaShem could have sustained us any other way and, ultimately, it is His word, which is the Divine life-force in the bread, that gives life.
In other words, there is the physicality and the spirituality of the food. The physical provides the substance for the body’s physical growth, whereas the spiritual enlivens the body. The spiritual provides spiritual life and nourishment by becoming absorbed and one with us and the way we eat determines if the nourishment will strengthen our physicality only or if it will also strengthen the spiritual, which is the soul.
When a Jew eats, it is to nourish his soul as well as his body. Now eating is pleasurable. Moreover, we eat to satisfy our hunger; but to what end? If we eat only for physical survival and pleasure, how are we different from animals? Animals eat too. However, when a Jew eats, it must be to nourish his soul as well as his body. Firstly, by blessing before and after eating, we show our gratitude to HaShem and thank Him for giving us our life and existence. Secondly, we eat to have the strength to serve Him, which brings us closer to HaShem.
However, on a deeper level, kosher food contains sparks of holiness which “comes out of the mouth of HaShem.” By reciting the blessings and eating the food for the “Sake of Heaven”, to have the strength to serve HaShem through Torah and mitzvot, we uplift these sparks and bring them into the domain of the holy. Each soul needs to elevate the sparks associated with it. The Holy Arizal explains that the reason we have the desire to eat altogether is because our soul desires to connect to these holy sparks and uplift them.
The Zohar states that the word, “man” in the above verse, refers specifically to the soul. With this understanding, the verse actually reads, “The soul does not live by bread alone etc. If we eat merely for pleasure and survival, it is limited to the natural and temporal. This kind of eating does not connect to the spiritual and eternal dimension of the food.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov taught that when we recite HaShem’s name in the blessings over food, we awaken the Divine name invested in the food. He explains that by eating kosher food, we come in contact with the “holy sparks” specific to our soul and that this happens through our natural proclivities and “tastes” which draw us specifically to certain foods.
In addition, we are taught that by eating “For the sake of Heaven” we release souls that may have been incarnated into the food. Conversely, if we eat for the wrong reasons, they may be obstructed from spiritual rectification. On the contrary, if we use the energy derived from eating to think wrong thoughts, speak wrong words or do wrong actions, we cause them to sink into impurity, G_d forbid. As Jews we need to look beyond the physicality of the bread and be aware of its spiritual dimension. Only then can we elevate the holy sparks imbedded in the food.
However, eating presents a great challenge. Though we may have the greatest of intentions, once we begin to eat, it is easy to fall into eating solely for the pleasure of it. To avert this, we bless before and after eating and speak words of Torah during the meal.
The Ben Ish Chai states that the blessings before and after the meal release the holy sparks and that words of Torah during the meal uplift them and bring them into “The Domain of the Holy.” He states in the name of the Arizal that, at least upon eating the first piece after the blessing, we should have the proper intentions in mind. This will sanctify the entire meal.
When we eat with the intention of serving HaShem; eating in moderation, minimizing idle chatter, avoid engaging in forbidden talk, such as gossip, recite the blessings and speak words of Torah, then we transform eating into something spiritual and holy. Through this, we elevate ourselves and the world around us.