Parshas Eikev: Upon What Does Man Live?

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Eikev, the great orator, teacher and leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, continues to speak to the nation from whom he is about to part ways.  In reminding them of their years of desert travels and wanderings, Moshe tells the nation – and records for posterity:  

וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶתכָּלהַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹלִיכְךָ האֱלֹקְיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ, לָדַעַת אֶתאֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֺתָו אִםלֹא 

And you shall remember the entire path along which Hashem your G-d, has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, if you will keep His commandments or not;

 וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ, וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶתהַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹאיָדַעְתָּ, וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ, כִּי לֹא עַלהַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָםכִּי עַלכָּלמוֹצָא פִי היִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

And He afflicted you, He let you hunger, and He fed you the manna which you did not know and your forefathers did not know, in order to let you know that not on bread alone does man live, but on all that emanates from the mouth of Hashem does man live (Devarim 8:2-3).

The dor ha’midbar – for forty years – were sustained by manna from heaven.  Not by the sweat of their brow, nor by the toil of their hands (cf. Gen.3:19) did they eat bread, but by the pure grace of G-d.  Every morn, for forty years, day in and day out (aside from Shabbos, when they received lechem mishnah on yom shishi) the manna fell to sustain them – exactly as much as each person needed, not more and not less.  They could not hoard it, nor save any for the morrow, nor take more than what each family needed for the number of people in their tent.  With this great miracle, an entire nation of over two million souls was sustained.  

What was this great miracle meant to teach that generation, and even more so, meant to teach us; we, who work so hard and imagine that we do eat by the sweat of our brows and by the toil of our hands?  

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, “Even if the notion that we can look to human power alone for our daily bread will not cause us to stray from the paths of duty and righteousness, it may well lead our thoughts beyond the necessities of the immediate present, further and further into the remote future, so that we will come to think that we have not done our duty unless we have assured the means not only for our own future but also for the future of our children and grandchildren.  As a result, the concern for breadwinning will become an endless race, leaving us neither time nor energy for purely spiritual and moral concerns.

“That is why G-d led us for forty years in the wilderness.  There, in the absence of all the factors that normally enable man to win his bread through a combination of natural resources and human energy, He brought out in sharp relief the one factor which under normal circumstances is only too easily ignored.  Instead of nourishing us with the bread of the stamp of human achievement, He fed us with the manna allotted by G-d alone, and He had it come to us day after day, to every soul in our humble dwellings, in a manner that clearly demonstrated G-d’s personal care for every soul, both great and small.  Hence, in this course of preparatory training for our future life, we learned the following basic truth: Human existence does not depend on bread alone – i.e., on the natural and human resources represented by bread.  Rather, man can live by anything that G-d ordains.  Even the bread that he obtains by his own skill is ordained by G-d.  Therefore, man is not lost, if, for the sake of his allegiance to G-d, he is compelled to forgo all that can be obtained from human and natural resources; indeed, man must know that even in the midst of plenty derived from the resources of man and nature, he still owes his sustenance solely to G-d’s special care” (The Hirsch Chumash, Feldheim, commentary to Devarim 8:3).  

Today we toil and work to procure our bread, yet the message of the manna is as eternally relevant as ever.  Man cannot earn, nor produce, any more than G-d ordains he shall earn.  While we live in a world very far removed from the desert existence of that generation, and toil we must to earn our keep, we must always remember the everlasting words of Moshe Rabbeinu: כִּי לֹא עַלהַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָםכִּי עַלכָּלמוֹצָא פִי היִחְיֶה הָאָדָםman lives, not by bread alone, but by all that emanates from the word of G-d.  

In the fast-paced, frenetic, “I deserve” and “I earn” generation and society in which we live, it behooves us to take these words to heart.   

In regard to concerns over parnassah, Rav Mordechai Gifter zt’l (1915-2001, Rosh Yeshiva Telz Yeshiva Cleveland), would say, “We don’t make a living, we take a living.  Don’t worry about your source of revenue; it comes from the Almighty.  He makes it; we take it” (Rav Gifter, Artscroll, p.209).  To a talmid from a poor family worried about his future and concerned about earning enough money to support his family, Rav Gifter sat with him for hours and told him his own life story, including the difficulties he had faced in supporting his family.  He said, “Without trust in Hashem, I would not even have a loaf of bread on my table” (ibid, p.205).  

There is a saying (author unknown) that no one, upon their deathbed, ever said, “I wish I would have spent more time in the office.”  

We must certainly do our hishtadlus to earn our keep, to provide healthily and well for ourselves and our families, but we must always, always remember, that our true Sustenance comes from the RS”O, and not on bread alone does man live.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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