Aug 10 2017 Dvar Torah


Rabbi Helen Cohn

There are many details of daily life that the Torah mostly ignores, but the one detail that is often mentioned is food. Abraham provides a feast for three strangers, Isaac asks Esau to bring him a meat stew, and so on. But the most famous mention of food is the manna, the desert food the Israelites ate while in the wilderness.

In this week’s Torah portion Moses reflects not on specific meals, but the role of food as a reflection of the good life and God’s abundance. This is where we read the famous line often translated “man does live by bread alone.”

“And God subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat…in order to teach you that a person does not live by bread alone but on every utterance of the YHVH’s mouth does a person live.” (Deut. 8:3)

For the Torah, food is a sign of Divine blessing. And the fertility and abundance of the land the Israelites are about to enter is both blessing and reward.

“…a land of brooks of water, springs and flowing waters coming out of valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley and vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olives for oil and date-honey, a land where not in scarcity will you eat bread, you will lack nothing…And you will eat and be satisfied and bless YHVH your God for the goodly land that He has given you.” (8:7-10)

But there is a warning too, as Moses cautions us:

“Take heed…lest you eat and are satisfied…and your heart becomes haughty and you forget YHVH your God…” (8:11-12, 14)

The Rabbis interpret these verses as a commandment to say a blessing after a meal. The Rabbis also added the injunction to say a blessing before eating, the most common of which is the Motzie.

Whether it’s a formal Motzie, or words of our heart, what matters most is that we stop and give thanks both before we dig in and when we are finished. As Samson Raphael Hirsch says: a blessing over our food “makes every little piece of bread looked on as being as much the direct gift from God as was the manna dropped from heaven…in the wilderness.”

Let our hearts not become haughty. Offering a simple blessing of thanks for our food reminds us not to take our good fortune for granted.