This past July, we were blessed to spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of our country. We traveled through the towering majesty of the Grand Tetons, saw the sheer beauty of Yellowstone, and enjoyed the lush forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The soaring snow-capped peaks, the waves of lush forests, a meadow filled with wildflowers, a canyon of color, a thundering waterfall – everywhere I looked, I wanted to stop and take a picture. Though I knew my phone couldn’t quite capture the breathtaking magnificence we experienced in those places, still taking the photograph was like an act of blessing – an effort to capture not simply the beauty of the place but the fullness of the spiritual awe and wonder I felt there.
The Israelites also spent summer months traveling through awesome, beautiful places. But their experience was different. For them, their journey was arduous and difficult.
“Remember the long way that YHVH your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years,” Moses teaches the Israelites this week in Parashat Ekev, “that God might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts … to teach you that humanity does not live on bread alone, but from what comes forth from God’s mouth is a person kept alive.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
The Kabbalists who lived in Tsfat in the 16th century taught that there is nothing in creation that does not come from God. Everything we see, everywhere we look, is part of the ongoing gift of creation. The Hasidic master Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, known as the Sefat Emet, added that, “surely, since God made the food that nourishes humanity, there is sustenance in it for the inner self as well.”
Most of the time, we find ourselves oblivious – unaware that holiness and miracle surround us in every moment. Life is hard. Our journeys through life are often filled with frustration and disappointment, with anguish and pain. Certainly the Israelites who endured forty years of wandering in the wilderness knew what it was to suffer.
So Moses reminds them that it is not simply enough to have food to satisfy our hunger. The soul, too, needs its nourishment. And we feed our souls, the Sefat Emet teaches, through the blessings tradition asks us to recite.
When we sit down to a meal, and look down at our plates, so often our attention is distracted and we mindlessly consume what lies before us.
But what if we looked down at that plate and saw each and every morsel as a gift? What if we looked at a piece of fruit or vegetable, and saw the hands of the people who planted the seeds, who cultivated the crops, who brought in the harvest, who packaged it for transport, who brought it to market, who displayed it on the shelf?
What if we could look deeper and see the incredible natural process of growth, how the seed sprouts roots that draw nutrients from the soil, take in the energy of the sun and the water of the rain, and transform it to sugars that feed the growth of the plant so that it will bear fruit for us?
What if we could look deeper still and simply stand in wonder at the existence of a seed, at the sheer idea that such a plant exists, and all the incredible variety of plants that bear fruit that can sustain our lives?
What if we could look deeper still and simply marvel at the miracle of our existence, at this wondrous world we are so privileged to inhabit for the brief span of our lives?
Moses is right – we cannot live on bread alone. Our bodies may be nurtured by bread, but our souls are nurtured by awe, wonder, gratitude, and love.
When we sit down for a meal, the blessings we recite for the food that nourishes our bodies, draws out the awareness and gratitude that feeds our souls.
And whether we stand in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, alongside a mountain stream in the Appalachians, on the beach here in Boca Raton, or wherever we find ourselves, we feed our souls by opening our hearts in wonder and gratitude simply for the gift of a moment in life.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”