This week we read the lines “Man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the lord decrees.” (Dt. 8:3) In context, this is Moses telling the lesson of eating manna in the wilderness. But the Hebrew can be translated “man does not live on bread alone, because on anything the mouth of God finds, man will live.” This second interpretation is just at true. As Leviticus and Deuteronomy tells us, the animals designated for eating are the sacrificial animals.While God really does not have a mouth, we have the idea that what is sacred to God should be sacred to us, particularly in what we eat.
Also in this parasha is the phrase, repeated three times “you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied.” connected by images of abundance (Deuteronomy 8:10, 8:12, 11:13). Two of these times there is a warning: Don’t stray away from God and worship false Idols. What does images of abundance have to do with eating and Idolatry. What is Idolatry anyway?
In one sense, to be an Idolater is to place the complete joining of self to divinity. For the idolater, the divine is what we say it is, limited by our own ignorance and selfish desires. In such selfish tunnel vision it reject what is outside of self, our relationship to everything else. The idol itself is not a god, but a self projection onto a finite object. But the lack, indeed rejection, of relationship with anything but their idol-god-self will lead the Idolater do things which others find abhorrent: abuse, rape, incest, hate crimes, even murder, all because there is no recognition of other people- there only a god and self.
This “other” may be a person, but it may be to an entire system. One such system is the environment which sustains us. When we treat our world ethically, we have an abundance of what finds God’s mouth. But to treat this abundance only in terms as self-reference, in terms of Idolatry, abuses the privilege of abundance. Such a warning is found in this weeks portion:
13. And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14. That I will give you the rain of your land in its due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil. 15. And I will send grass in your fields for your cattle, that you may eat and be full.16. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17. And then the Lord’s anger be kindled against you, and he closed the skies, that there should be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gives you. 18. Therefore shall you lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. 19. And you shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20. And you shall write them upon the door posts of your house, and upon your gates. 21. That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.[Deuteronomy 11]
In traditional siddurim, this is the 2nd paragraph of the Shema, which is also found in every mezuzah and tefillin, objects which try to remind us of this in all our actions. Some movements seeing too much quid pro quo theology in this statement have omitted it. I do not take this as a statement of do good and get good, do bad and get bad. It is telling us of the consequences of forgetting where our food comes from, and too much to heed .
Our third passage with you will eat and satisfied, gives us the reminder to avoid abuse. 8:10 reads “you will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless”. It is from this third passage that we get the Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals. To bless God for the food in our bellies, is to say thank you. When we say thank you, we commit an act of ethics, that we acknowledge others. We acknowledge that God, the environment, and the people who helped make the food from farm to fork, are just as important as ourselves when it comes to eating and sustaining our lives. And to acknowledge the other beside ourselves is the whole point of ethics.
Mouths are both where we speak and where we eat. When we put something into our mouths, then we need to bring something out, a blessing of thanks. When we say thank you, we acknowledge what is outside of ourselves. Reciting Birkat Hamazon, is just as important a meal for both God and humanity as the bread we eat.