Sedrah Reflections – By Zaki Cooper
The German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach famously said: ‘Man is what he eats’ (‘Der Mensch ist was er isst’).
Food plays a central role in the Jewish calendar, as well as in our history and culture. We have been admired by others for the range of our food and the social and communal role that it plays.
Food is also a recurring theme of this week’s Sedrah, which continues Moses’ closing address to the Jewish people. In the opening verses, he tells them that G-d ‘will bless … the fruit of the land, your corn, your wine and your oil’ (Devarim 7:13) He goes on to discuss the provision of Manna in the Wilderness (ibid 8:3). He suggests that while the Manna was a miracle, it was a test of faith, as the people did not have any certainty that food was coming, and did not know whether human beings could survive for a period on such sustenance. Moses reminds us that ‘man does not live by bread alone’. Our needs are not just physical: we also have a range of spiritual and emotional needs.
We eat to live rather than live to eat. The narrative then describes some of the attributes of the Land of Israel and lists the seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). It is ‘a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity; you will lack nothing in it’ (ibid 8:9).
There is then an explicit warning against excessive materialism. Moses cautions, with the words – later incorporated in our bensching – that is not enough to ‘eat and be satisfied’. If we succumb to rampant consumerism, that will not be healthy, either physically or spiritually. We are what we eat!