The Benefits Of Starvation

07/26/13 08:44:39


R Pesach Siegel

Parshas Eikev

 The Benefits of Starvation

In the desert, Klal Yisroel was sustained by the manna. Their eating was an unnatural one. It descended from shamayim. It had non-physical properties. It was called "lechem abirim",  the bread of angels.

 The purpose of the manna was not only a practical one. It was to deliver a message.

 The Torah says, "I caused you pain, I starved you, I fed you the manna, a food which you had no knowledge of. Also, your forefathers had no knowledge of it. I did this in order for you to know that man does not live by bread alone. He lives by what emanates from the mouth of Hashem."[1] 

 The Torah continues, “The one who fed you manna in the desert that your forefather did not know. In order to pain you, in order to test you, in order to grant you good in the end.[2] Rav Ovadia Seforno comments that the good received from eating manna will surpass even the good that the angels are beneficiaries of.


The parshah also talks about a different form of “eating”. As it says, “Ve’achalta es kol ha’amim asher Hashem Elokecha nosen lach.” – If you keep G-d’s mitzvos, you will consume all the nations that Hashem your G-d will give to you.[3]


 The Torah equates the eating of the manna with starvation. If they subsisted on the manna, wouldn’t their hunger be stilled?

 Of what significance is it that they and their forefathers possessed no knowledge of the manna?

 How does one eat that which emanates from G-d’s mouth?"

 In what way will eating manna be good for the Bnei Yisroel in the end?

 Why is the word “ve’achalta” chosen to describe defeating the enemy?

 Background/Deeper Understanding

 The posuk says "V'ochalta v'sovota u'verachta es Hashem elokecha"[4]. You should eat, be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d. Two passages later the Torah warns us of the danger inherent in eating. One can eat and satiate himself at the cost of forgetting Hashem's role in the scheme of all things. Eating can be a tool to bring someone closer to Hashem or the opposite, chas v'shalom.

 Everything in creation eats in some form or another. Nothing in this world is a self sufficient. In order for things to exist, strive, and thrive, they are dependent on ingesting something external to themselves. This is not accidental. Man, in particular, is created imperfect. He is provided with a world that contains the things necessary to sustain and perfect himself. He is in need of constant replenishment for his very life.  Man is created in this way so that he would be constantly aware that he is not self sufficient.

 Thus, everything relies on a relationship with Hashem in order to exist.

 When the stomach is empty it is evident that man is in need of external subsistence. It is when man is full, however, that he is in danger of reasoning that he provides for himself.

 Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk provides this as  the basis for a bracha rishona being of rabbinic origin and birchas hamazon being of Sinaic origin. It is integral for one to acknowledge G-d’s role upon completion of a meal.

 The Torah tells us that Hashem does not act towards us with favoritism, He doesn't accept bribes.[5] Chazal relate that the mal’achim ask Hashem, "If so, how is the posuk "yisa Hashem panav eilecha" - Hashem will raise His holy countenance towards you, to be explained?" Hashem replies, "I commanded them to say birchas hamazon only when they are satisfied. They take it upon themselves to offer thanks even when eating the small amount of a k'zayis."[6] They merit "n'sias panim", being on the receiving end of Hashem's beaming countenance.

 What is it about reciting birchas hamazon over a k'zayis that is deemed so meritorious?

 Man can envision eating just as an animal eats. Not for any high or lofty purpose. Man can eat in order to live or just to still his annoying hunger. But man is not an animal. Eating can be the foundation for a relationship with the Creator. Through food, man receives life directly from G-d. His relationship with G-d is as a nursing baby with his mother.

 Life is defined by a bond between the body and the soul, together forming one unit. The purpose of the food is not only to serve the physical needs. The ultimate purpose in order to keep the physical body fettered to the neshama so that it can perform the will of the neshama.

 All things in creation are made up of a physical component and a non-physical one. Food itself is made up of a body and a soul. It has life within it. The life is imbued in the food by Hashem's will. When one ingests food, the physical body benefits from the physical aspect of the food, and the neshama receives nourishment from the ruchniyus of the food. In this manner, the bond is maintained between the ruchniyus and the gashmiyus of one who ingests food.[7]

 If the purpose of eating is to keep body and soul together, a k'zayis is sufficient. It might not be filling, but one bonds with Hashem through the unity of body and soul.

 This is why those who eat with this goal in mind are deserving of a special benevolence from Hashem.

 The Torah says that Hashem loves the convert. He loves him to the extent that he gives the convert bread and clothing.[8]

 We find an interesting parallel in the words of Yaakov Aveinu. Yaakov Avenu upon awakening from his dream vowed to dedicate a bayis to Hashem, upon the condition that Hashem provide him with bread and clothing.[9]

 Harav Yonason David[10] explains, a convert is someone who is all alone. He has no family to fall back on. He exists in a vacuum. He truly enjoys a one on one relationship with the Creator. His basic needs are met directly by Hashem. Hashem loves him and has a special relationship with him.

 Yaakov Aveinu was not merely praying for food and clothing. He was praying to enjoy a special status, similar to that of a convert. he would build a house of the Lord, where He could dwell among us.

 The status of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert directly paralleled the relationship of a convert. They were in a desert, totally cut off from everything. Hashem bore them as a mother bears her infant. Their bread was given to them directly by Hashem in the form of manna. Their clothing was sustained directly by Hashem.[11]


 The manna differed from ordinary food. Even its physical component had non-physical properties. Anything that is a presence in this world must have a guf (body) and the manna was no exception, but the nature of the guf of the manna was not one of a physical food. It was able to assume the taste of whatever one wished. It arrived on the doorstep of a tzaddik, whereas others not so righteous had to travel to obtain it.[12] Whatever amount one gathered, he always ended up with the exact measure for his needs.

 A nation that is nurtured on such food is affected positively. Their guf assumes a level of spirituality unobtainable by normal means. The physical body is enabled to rise above its set limitations.

 The medrash tells us in the name of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai that Hashem led the Bnei Yisroel in the desert for 40 years so they should drink from the waters of Miriam’s well and should eat from the manna. Their physical bodies would then be absorbed with the sanctity of the Torah.[13]

 A person whose interest is the physical world gains very little from such food. The main recipient of the benefit is by the neshama. The physical body is then considered as being “starved”.

 The B'nei Yisroel withstood the trial of the manna. Had they rejected the manna, they would have put themselves in the category of physical beings whose existence is finite. The manna had a dual role. To be emptyof all possible physicality and by the same token, to be a conduit of a direct relationship with Hashem.

 Hashem waited until the generation of the desert before He gave the Torah. The Torah can only be received by a nation that totally embraces Hashem. The people of the desert qualified because they were completely dependant on Hashem. There is no parallel in history for such a period. Even Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov were not so privileged.[14] This is what is meant by the posuk quoted above. Hashem fed us the manna which we and our forefathers had no knowledge of. The word used to mean knowledge is da’as. But we find it used in the Torah as a word for “bonding”.[15] Previously they were incapable of bonding with Hashem to the extent necessary for the giving of the Torah to take place. Now it is possible. 

 The process of perfection is a gradual one. The days of the world are divided into three periods, olam hazeh, yemos hamashiach, and olam habo.[16] This world is a seemingly mundane, physical world. During the days of Mashiach, all entities in the world will still possess a physical guf, but will have a non-physical nature. People will then live longer.[17] The yetzer hara will be subdued.

 Olam Haba will transcend nature.

 The years spent in Mitzrayim in servitude are a parallel to the days of this world. The time spent in the desert is called yemos hamashiach. Entering Eretz Yisroel is a forerunner to olam haba.

  It is a process to subjugate the body to the needs of the soul. In the end of days, we will attain a level of unity with Hashem and we will have earned it by virtue of us being "eaters of manna". Our reward will surpass that of the malachim.

 Each and every one of G-d's creatures is created with a unique void to fill, and is provided with the ability and opportunity to fill it. There is inherent purpose in everything and everyone. What happens when an individual or a nation fails to live up to its potential? The sanctification of Hashem's name is unavoidable, either it will come as a result of someone's efforts or despite him. For example, a wicked person achieves his purpose in the world either by repenting or by getting punished for not repenting.  There are others whose sole purpose in this world is to be of benefit to the righteous. They have no merits of their own.

 The nations of the world who are supposed to render assistance to Klal Yisroel, instead form an obstacle and a hindrance. Klal Yisroel does not merely overcome them, they consume them. They extract anything worthwhile from them and use it for the purpose it was meant for.

[1] Parshas Eikev, perek 8, posuk 3

[2] Parshas Eikev, perek 8, posuk 16

[3] Parshas Eikev, perek 7, posuk 16

[4] Parshas Eikev, perek 8, posuk 10

[5] Parshas Eikev, perek 9, posuk 17

[6] Meseches Brachos, daf 45a

[7] Mishna Berurah, siman 6, se’if katan 6

[8] Parshas Eikev, perek 9, posuk 18

[9] Parshas VaYeitze, perek 28, posuk 20

[10] Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok

[11] Rashi, Parshas Eikev, perek 8, posuk 4

[12] Meseches Yuma, daf 75a

[13] Yalkut Shimoni. Shmos, perek 13, remez 226

[14] Ramban, pereh 8, posuk 3

[15] Parshas Breishis, perek 4, posuk 1

[16] Medrash Rabi Tanchuma, Parshas Eikev, perek 7

[17] Meseches Sanhedrin 91b

Thu, September 21 2017 1 Tishrei 5778