One of the most famous and quoted passages of the Torah appears in this week's reading "man does not live by bread alone." This phrase has entered general literature in all of its forms but it certainly has not entered human life in much reality.
Many, if not most people, still believe that man does live by bread alone and that the life of spirit is nice but it is not really part of this world and our basic existence.
The Torah emphasizes often and especially in this series of readings in which we are currently engaged, the importance of the manna in forming a Jewish people characterized by ultimate faith and spirit. The manna is the food of angels of heaven itself. It leaves no residue in the human body and adjusts its taste to the wishes of those who consume it. It supplies physical nourishment but it is not bread or any other human food. It is the food of spirit, of hope and longing and of the pursuit of Godliness.
The manna educated Israel that dependence upon G-d is the reality of human existence and that eventually everyone has to eat the food of heaven in order to live a truly meaningful life. Manna cannot be stored for another day. It falls fresh daily except for Sabbath, because this day itself envelopes us with the purely spiritual nothing more is needed.
The manna fell every day and served as a constant reminder that the relationship between the Creator and the created is continual and permanent. Truly, man cannot live by bread alone.
When the Jewish people finally entered the Land of Israel and settled it, the manna stopped falling. Real bread was now necessary for the existence of the nation and of its individual members. This proved to be and continues to be one of the supreme tests of national and individual Jewish life how does one retain a sense of spirituality while toiling to acquire bread to live on?
Providing time for the study of Torah, performing mitzvos (religious duties) and granting priority to true Jewish values in our lives helps us answer this difficult question. Sabbath and the holidays also provide us with an escape from pursuing bread alone and allow us to refocus our attention on our Creator-created relationship.
It is not for naught that the rabbis insisted that our speech and even our thoughts on Sabbath and the holidays not deal with the bread of daily toil and struggle. Instead we are to treat the food of Sabbath as though it were of heavenly origin.
The secret ingredient in Sabbath food according to the Talmud is Sabbath itself. To be able to live at least one day of the week on the word of G-d, so to speak, and not on the bread of man is a truly spiritual experience.
The Jewish story of survival and destiny over millennia is the proof of the words of the Torah man does not live by bread alone.