The Bible Says What? ‘You really can’t live on bread alone’

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The Bible Says What? ‘You really can’t live on bread alone’

Rabbi Richard Jacobi takes a controversial topic from the Torah and offers a progressive response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

“God subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, in order to teach you that a human being does not live on bread alone…” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

This is one of those quotable lines from the Torah that has found its way into everyday speech.

The context makes clear it is not simply dietary advice. The Chatam Sofer clearly tells us “not to take our lives on merely gaining a livelihood: eating in order to work, working in order to eat. Our true purpose should be learning in order to teach, observe, do and uphold Torah in truth and faith.”

The setting for Deuteronomy, in the borders of the Promised Land, gives even more context. Moses is pictured anticipating what could happen when the Israelites are safe and comfortable in their portion of the land. At what point will a full stomach lead to complacent blindness to the purpose of life?

In 2021, we have seen the consequences of centuries of living by bread alone – whether we look at deforestation in the Amazon, soil erosion, methane adding to climate change, plastic water bottles polluting the seas and so forth. The effects are dramatically felt this summer with floods being described as “Biblical”. Nature is telling us: “You’ve messed with me, now see what rebounds onto you.”

Every time we conclude a meal, the Birkat Hamazon reminds us not only to be thankful for having food, but to return our focus to improving the world we live in through our words and our deeds. So let’s also feed our thoughts towards the urgent tasks of repairing this world.

  •  Rabbi Richard Jacobi serves East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue

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