Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Eikev

Way back in time, when the Temple in Jerusalem still had a fire on its altar, we prayed by bringing our offerings to the altar. We participated in the everyday offering, the thanks and atonement offerings, and a total of countless variations too numerous to recount here. When Rome destroyed the Temple, we went into exile from Jerusalem and found new ways to offer our ritual prayers to God. We replaced certain offerings with verbal prayer and others with specific rituals. In particular, instead of bringing pieces of our bread to burn on the altar, we created a spoken prayer of thanksgiving.

“Praised are You, Adonai our God, Eternal Sovereign, Who brings forth bread from the earth.” Anytime we serve bread at a meal; we say this prayer. We acknowledge the blessing of sustenance. The one problem, though, is that bread does not come from the Earth. The grains come from the Earth, but it takes a lot more than grain to make bread.

This week’s Torah portion helps us see that even basic sustenance is not basic.  “God humbled you, causing you to hunger and then fed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Adonai.”

The grain alone is not sustenance. Manna is a bread-like substance that we gather from the ground and eat. It is different from the grain, for it is lovingly processed. In announcing our appreciation for the “bread” that comes from the Earth, we express thanks for a finished product. No longer in the wilderness, we do not expect to wake each morning to find manna on the ground waiting for us. We now rely on each other for sustenance and recognize that without each other, we are lost.

The prayer presumes the process and all the hands in the process of turning the grain into bread. This process includes those operating the farm that grew and sowed the grains. It includes those in charge of transporting the grain to the refineries and bakeries and those who prepared and baked the bread. Ultimately, this process involves those who made sure it got to us. Sounds like a lot, but it is not the bread that sustains us. What sustains us is how, acting, in God’s stead (the manna that just appeared), we nurture each other.

From the Rabbinic tradition, we learn, “Eem aen kemach aen Torah, eem aen Torah, aen kemach.” If there is no bread, there can be no enlightenment. If there is no enlightenment, then bread does not matter. We share a holy relationship with each other. During creation, God said, “It is not good that man is alone.” We are not – we have each other.

It is for this reason that I ache for our country. The rhetoric of hate rips us apart. The statement from the president’s office calling any Jew who votes Democratic disloyal to this country reeks of the pogroms of ages past. There is no soft-peddling this or morally equivocating. This language from the President, his campaign promise to pay the legal fees for anyone who beat up his opposition, his comments to only people of color who disagree in congress about going back to their country – these are the scariest words a nation can hear. We need to return to each other, feed and nurture each other. We need to make clear our unwillingness to plunge our nation into the depths of zealotry that has seen everyone who is the other demeaned and purged in history. We can and must do better – NOW. Shabbat Shalom.