As Moses retells the story of leaving Egypt in Deuteronomy, one verse in particular draws a lot of commentary relating to the manna that God provides. We read that a promise is made to the people that when they reach the Holy Land they will be able to "eat bread without poverty." (Deut. 8:9) What does this mean? Is it simply a blessing for prosperity, to always have enough to eat? Is it implying that while in the desert they were eating bread while in poverty? It seems the line denotes that bread, or manna, alone is not enough.
Rashi comments on this verse, comparing physical sustenance to spiritual fulfillment. He says: "The Torah speaks not of poverty of insufficient calories nor of not enough money to buy food. The subject is spiritual poverty." There is more to life than simply taking what sustenance is provided to you.
What a timely message. There is more to life than simply taking what sustenance is provided to you.
I was eating a bowl of Cheerios with milk the other day and I couldn’t help but notice a very interesting statement on the milk carton. It said “You deserve the best.” I deserve the best? How do they know that? How do they know that I am a person who deserves the best? It’s marketing statements like this that have led the last couple of generations into a belief of entitlement, a belief that we deserve the best?
I think Rashi has something here –I think that amidst the plenty in which we live, we are suffering from spiritual poverty. We have enough, more than enough to eat. We have more than enough clothes and jewels and trinkets and furniture . . . we have enough cars, and houses and luxuries. But what we don’t have is enough spiritual fulfillment and do you know why that is?
Because according to Rashi, we suffer spiritual poverty because we do little to bring it about.
In this Parsha Eikev, Moses is preparing the people for the commandments, actions to live out the Torah. Rashi says the answer to feed spiritual poverty is to perform all of the mitzvot, the commandments, in their entirety. Now that is pretty tall order – and in fact quite impossible for most of us to achieve. But whatever we believe to be the true answer to spiritual fulfillment, we learn today the importance of action.
Rebbe Menachem Mendl of Kotzk also taught about the importance and power of sincere action. Known as the Kotzker, he was the author of a specific line of thought in Chassidic Judaism at the turn of the 19th century. The Kotzker taught first to always act in search of truth "as if it had not been known before." He relates this to prayer, saying that every day one should approach prayer as if it is a new experience. The Kotzker’s words also apply as an approach to spiritual poverty or fulfillment. There has to be something sincere and new about an experience. If one is simply taking what is placed before them, they have no ownership over it, making it less valuable.
We are compelled to interpret, discuss and learn from what we are presented with in order to set an example, or perhaps even to create our own experiences. We are faced often in our lives with making "Jewish choices." Sometimes that even means making the choice to be Jewish, and we learn from Parshat Eikev that to simply take what is given to us is not enough. Moses stressed to the people that this is their time to act.
It is a recurring theme for Jews today to make an experience relevant to our lives. For example, at a Passover Seder we stress that it was not other people that were brought out of Egypt, but that it happened to us. We connect to our history by owning our experiences today and striving to find new meaning in them.
But in order to live lives filled with spirituality, we have to do spiritual things and as Jews we have been given a great blueprint for doing exactly that. The Torah. We might not be able to do as Rashi says - fulfill all the mitzvoth – but there are things we CAN do to bring about our own spiritual fulfillment. We can live Kosher lives, celebrate Shabbat, get involved in Jewish education, honour our fellow people, give generously to charity and become involved in our synagogues. These are all important ways that can help us fulfill our spiritual purpose – Moses knew it when he gave his address to the people before they entered Israel. He knew that the gift of spiritual fulfillment could only be realized through individuals taking Jewish action – through following the mitzvoth. This lesson is as relevant to us today as it was then.