From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Man does not live by bread alone” (Devarim 8:3). A famous line, but what does it mean? The verse comes from this week’s Torah reading and is a reference to the miraculous mon, which fell from heaven daily during the Jewish People’s sojourn in the Wilderness. The conclusion of the verse is that man lives by the word of G‑d. Thus, it is reminding us about the true source of human sustenance.
Contrary to popular belief, it is neither our earthly toil nor the sweat of our brow nor all those conferences, meetings, and sales seminars that ensure our success. The reality is that G‑d sustains us and looks after us. In the very same way as our ancestors trekking through the desert were totally dependent on Him for their daily bread, believe it or not, so are we. Wealth is a G‑dly gift. At the end of the day, it is not our hard work or business acumen alone that provide our prosperity but the blessings from Above that endow our efforts with success.
Ask anyone in sales. How often have their best-laid plans and pitches come to naught and then, out of the blue, a big order comes in with little or no effort? Of course, it’s not the rule, and we must be prepared to put in effort if we are to succeed. But when it does happen, it reminds us that there are higher forces beyond our control at work.
I confess. I like a good ad. Some years ago, McDonald’s was running a campaign, and in the center of the full magazine page was a big, fat, juicy double burger. It was bursting from the roll on either side. The bread was dwarfed by the beef, and the caption read, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
A good ad indeed. But no ad agency will convince me that Scripture meant to teach us that bread is inadequate and what man really needs in life is a burger! The Torah is teaching us something about the nature of men and women and the spirit of humanity. The human spirit is such that we crave more than bread.
Now “bread” colloquially means money and symbolically refers to all things material. So “man does not live by bread alone” means that man simply cannot live by bread alone, that human beings cannot possibly be satisfied with bread or money or materialism alone. Money is important, but we cannot live by money exclusively.
What about job satisfaction? I know a number of individuals in our community who willingly gave up lucrative positions for less-rewarding ones because they found their work unstimulating. They were making lots of cash, but there was no emotional reward. I also know people who have it all financially but who are nonetheless unhappy people. They are highly successful . . . and equally miserable. The successes we achieve do not guarantee our happiness.
After we’ve bought the house of our dreams and our fantasy sports car and the latest mechanical toys, we tire of them all. For satisfaction to be lasting it must be more than material; it must be spiritual. We need more than bread and money; we need stimulation and a sense of meaningful achievement. To know that our lives have purpose and that somehow we have made a difference. We want to be assured that our work is productive and will have lasting value.
They tell the story of an old Russian labor camp and a long-term prisoner whose job it was to turn a heavy wheel attached to a wall on the prison boundary. For no less than 25 years this poor prisoner worked at his backbreaking manual labor. What kept him going mentally was the conviction that this wheel must be attached to a mill on the other side of the wall. He assumed that his revolving wheel turned the mill and a watering pipe must have been irrigating many fields. His work was thus helping yield plentiful crops of grain to feed and nurture thousands of people. After 25 years of hard labor, when he was about to be released to freedom, the prisoner asked to be shown the mill and the apparatus behind the prison wall. Tragically, he discovered to his shock that there was nothing! The wheel was just a wheel—the crass authorities’ instrument of manipulation and torture for no useful purpose. The man collapsed in a dead faint, absolutely devastated. His life’s work had been in vain.
Men and women need to know that their lives are purposeful, physically and spiritually. When we understand that every good deed is attached to a complex spiritual apparatus, that our every action meshes with a systematic structure of cosmic significance, then our lives become endowed with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. We desperately need to know that, in some way, our work is helping others—that we are making a contribution to society beyond our own immediate and often selfish needs. Then we are living. Then we are happy.
Man does not live by bread alone. We cannot. We dare not. There’s got to be more to life than bread and money. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.