Parashat Ekeb: Nourishing the Soul
The Torah tells us in Parashat Ekeb, "Ki Lo Al Ha’lehem Lebado Yihyeh Ha’adam" – "Man does not live on bread alone." On the simplest level of interpretation, Moshe here speaks about the manna with which G-d sustained Beneh Yisrael as they traveled through the wilderness, and he points to the fact that G-d has no limits in His ability to sustain us. We do not depend only on ordinary bread, because G-d proved that He is capable of sustaining us and keeping us alive even when we were in a situation where we had no food.
There is, however, a deeper interpretation of this verse, as well. Human beings are composed of two parts – a body and a soul; a physical dimension and a spiritual dimension. Our physical bodies, of course, are sustained by food and liquids. They provide our bodies with the vitamins and nutrients that they need to continue functioning properly. But how do we nourish and sustain our souls? Where do we find the spiritual sustenance we need to maintain the spiritual dimension of our beings?
The Zohar teaches that when G-d created the world, He had to inject His spirit, His Kedusha, into everything. Nothing in the universe can exist without G-d. As opposed to an artisan or craftsman, who makes something which can then continue existing long after he stops working and even long after he dies, G-d continues sustaining every single aspect of existence. If G-d would cease creating for a millisecond, the universe would cease to exist. And this is why we describe Hashem as "Oseh Ma’aseh Bereshit" ("Who makes creation"), in the present tense. He is constantly "creating" the world, and nothing can exist without His constant, ongoing infusion of His spirit into it.
The food we eat, then, contains not only the nutrients needed for our bodies, but also a spiritual component, an element of Kedusha. After all, as mentioned, nothing in the world can exist without that spiritual dimension, without G-d’s spirit which sustains it. And thus while the nutrients in our food sustains our body, its Godly components sustain our soul.
But this does not occur automatically. We need to extract this quality of Kedusha from our food in order for it to sustain our souls. And this only happens if we recite the Berachot. Our recitation of a Beracha is required not merely as requesting permission from G-d to derive benefit from His earth – though this is certainly an important aspect of Berachot – but also as a necessary means of nourishing our souls. We reap the spiritual benefits of food only by transforming the physical act of eating into a spiritual act, which we do by reciting Berachot.
The importance of Berachot is indicated elsewhere in this Parasha, as well. In fact, this week’s Parasha introduces the only Beracha which is required on the level of Torah obligation – Birkat Ha’mazon – and also contains an allusion to the requirement to recite one hundred Berachot each day ("Ma Hashem Elokecha Sho’el Me’imach"). Parashat Ekeb should thus serve as a reminder to be especially vigilant with regard to this vital Misva which we often take for granted and neglect. Reciting Berachot over food is not merely a "nice thing," and is even more than a Halachic requirement; it is the means by which we sustain and nourish our spirituality. It thus behooves us all to constantly review the laws of Berachot, ask a Rabbi when questions arise, and be mindful of the requirement to recite Berachot, so we ensure that our food has the effect of not only maintaining our physical wellbeing, but maintaining our spiritual wellbeing, as well.