Not By Bread Alone

The Baal Shem Tov’s signature:                Yisrael Ben Moreinu Rabbeinu HaRav Rav Eliezer KaesB’ (for the moment, in) Medzbuzh

The Baal Shem Tov on Parshat Eikev, from Keter Shem Tov 18b

And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which neither you nor your forefathers knew, to let you know that man (ha-adam) does not live by bread alone, but by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man (ha-adam) live. Deuteronomy 8:3

Why does the Torah twice add the letter Heh in front of the word adam, “man”? (1) It is written in Likutei Torah by the Arizal (2) that the philosophers wondered where the source of the soul is found, for it is not logical that the soul should draw sustenance from physical things like bread. On the other hand, the soul cannot live without any sustenance as an angel can — if it could, then why would it be so that if a person goes many days without eating and dies of hunger then the soul separates from the body? If the soul derives no enjoyment from eating, why should it leave if the eating stops? This greatly confused the philosophers.

The Arizal calls the philosophers fools, saying they knew nothing of the root of creation. For our sages say, “With ten utterances was the world created” (3), that is, everything exists by the very utterances of God — as soon as the Holy One of Blessing spoke the words “Let there be a firmament” there was a firmament, as it is said, “By the word of God the heavens were made” (4). The utterance enters into the inner source of life in order to give that life over to the firmament for as long as it stands, as it says, “God is forever; Your word stands firm in the heavens” (5). Likewise when God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees…and it was so,” and “Let the earth give forth living beings” (6); those very utterances gave existence to them all, and those utterances are their inner source of life.

When you take a fruit and make a blessing with true intent, your mention of God’s name awakens the life force by which that fruit was created — and this life force is the sustenance of the soul, and is contained in every form of permitted food that the Holy One of Blessing commanded us to raise from physicality to spirituality.

This then is the meaning of our verse, And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, for the manna was very spiritual, and the unrefined among them could not gain any satisfaction from it, and so they said in Parshat Beha’alotecha [when they complained about eating only manna], “Our souls are cut off.” And the verse continues, and I fed you with manna — truly fed you, for the manna was like the food of the ministering angels, spiritual food given just enough physicality to be held in the hand (7). Then follows to let you know that, even when you arrive in the Land of Israel and eat physical bread, you should put the honor of your soul before that of your body, and raise everything from materiality to spirituality. Not by bread alone, meaning the material aspect of the bread only, before the awakening of its spiritual aspect, does man, that is, the soul which is called ha’adam with the heh added (8), live, but by whatever comes forth from the mouth of God, that is, when you bring forth the name of God by saying the blessing with intention and awakening the spirituality within it (10), “does man live,” ha-adam, meaning the soul of man, for it is sustained by the spiritual aspect of the food, for such was the intent of the Holy One of Blessing that we should raise up the sparks that fell into the four worlds of the cosmos after the creation and subsequent destruction of the previous worlds (12).


1) The letter Heh usually means “the,” but here there is no need for the definite article: why say “the man” when speaking of people in general?   2) Yitzhak Luria   3) Pirkei Avot 5:1   4) Psalms 33:6   5) Psalms 119: 89    6) Genesis 1:12; 1:24   7) There is a midrashic concept, beloved by the Hasidim, that the time of the wandering in the desert was one of elevated spirituality, and that the arrival of the Children of Israel in the Land of Israel was a “coming down to earth” in order to learn how to live spiritually within the physical world.   8) “For the body is called the flesh of man and the soul is called ha’adam” (Zohar Parshat Breishit 20b); the letter heh is a symbol of God’s indwelling power (cf: the name changes of Avram/Avraham, Sarai/Sarah, and Yeshua/Yehoshua, and the use of the letter heh as a stand-in for the Ineffable Name).   9) Hashem in the original Hebrew, which could be “The Name [of God]” or simply the name of God.   9) “it” could be the divine name or the fruit, an ambivalence I see as intentional.   11) Again, ha’adam.   12) The Besht is alluding to the mystical concept of the “Four Worlds,” which were four stages of development in the world’s creation and continue to act as levels of being that bridge the gap between the infinite G!d and the finite world. The four worlds, from “top” to “bottom,” are Atzilut, “Emanation,” Beriyah, “Creation,” Yetzirah, “Formation,” and Assiyah, “Action”; as God’s creative power flows down from world to world, it grows ever more concrete, finally resulting in the material world. In a slightly different use of the word “world,” the Besht is also referring to the midrash that our universe was not the first that God created, but rather was a “redux,” and the myth of the Arizal that the remnants of the first world are scattered through this one in the form of divine sparks trapped in material creation.

Here is the original teaching:BaalShemTovEikevb1 BaalShemTovEikevb2

Start at the ב

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