Not By Bread Alone

“Carb” is a four-letter curse word in the estimation of most L.A. residents. Its nasty connotation came by way of one Dr. Atkins, whose “Diet Revolution” became more widely read than the Bible among many a secular Jew. Seemingly overnight, Atkins’ “prophecy” became an orthodoxy for consumption of food for the grace of that most coveted status: beauty by way of slenderness.

Suddenly carbs were cursed, and pasta, potatoes and, of course, bread became the stuff of guilt and suffering to be avoided like menstruating women on the bimah. In revolutionary proportions, the most nonreligious unknowingly joined in collective affirmation of the words of Parshat Ekev: “Man does not live by bread alone.”

That man should live instead by an In-N-Out protein-style Double-Double, however, was not quite the message. Preceding Deuteronomy 8:3, God explained the suffering He caused the Israelites in wandering the wilderness as a 40-year test of faith. “[God] subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat … in order to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by the word that proceeds out of the mouth of God does man live.”

Perhaps today’s anti-bread movement is essentially spiritual: a collective desire of our souls for greater consciousness and empowerment from within the realm of Creator. To be sure, giving up bread is a subjugation of hardship; no amount of corned beef can satisfy hunger for a fresh slice of rye bread underneath. The triumph in overcoming such attachments for a higher life experience is indeed sacred; seeking a tighter tush rather than a firmer faith is profane. Even if the spark of God within us inspired this widespread affliction of culinary deprivation, our egos haven’t quite caught on.

Carbolyte is a poor substitute for manna from heaven (and a noxiously gaseous one), as are the other artificially flavored and sweetened things by which carb-counting eaters try to satiate. They only add to the diseases of materialism: feelings of inadequacy, of wanting more in a world where you can “never be too rich or too thin.” If only we would recite the words of Ekev, recognizing that “God is in [our] midst, a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21), the experience of our own perfection in an abundant reality would be revealed.

The bread battle is spiritual. Long before Atkins or Weight Watchers subjected us to the proverbial wilderness of carblessness, Judaism instructed that we “cast our bread upon the water” as offerings of lowly attachment for the receiving of higher sustenance. So, too, it warned us to temper consumption of yeast, which, like the human ego, causes physical and emotional turmoil when disproportionately swollen. And then there is the connection between the words lechem (bread) and milchama (war) by sharing the same root — explaining the battle between a smaller waist and a chocolate rugelach.

Eliminating bread, according to Judaism, is an ego diet. It is infliction of measured suffering on the greedy, possessive, instantly gratified, animal part of oneself so as to realign with the Godly part. It exercises faith and determination, a return to the experience of blessing. It took 40 years for our ancestors to get this: that they need not struggle nor worry nor want food, or anything else, but rather infiltrate their beings with faith in the providence of their Creator and gratitude for His miraculous offerings.

His manna appeared such that there was never any more or less than what was needed for daily sustenance. Anything leftover rapidly infested with maggots; the only thing they could hold was conviction in God’s presence. When they finally understood that everything needed was imparted by — and only by — the power of the Divine word, they were delivered into a land flowing with milk, honey and fabulous pita.

The war on bread may allow a victory over dependency, but it is in learning to love the enemy after the battle that perfection is truly realized. Manna was never meant to take the place of the wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates and grapes growing in Israel. Once our ancestors were able to fully trust in the sustenance and abundance of an Infinite Source, It restored them to their natural right for physical pleasure. The intention was ultimately that we live our lives in the luxury of beautiful tastes and recognize the blessing of its energy flowing though us as sparks of creation in service of their Supplier.

Man should not avoid bread; quite the contrary: the parsha proceeds with God’s promising our life experience in “a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing.” It describes an abundant existence, in which “when you have eaten your fill” of Mrs. Fields cookies, you will recognize that you have had enough, and “give thanks to the Lord your God for the good … he has given.” Carb-free living encourages the power to transcend attachments to comfort, and strengthens the will to live consciously and intentionally: the Sinai Diet. But the greater test comes in our heeding God’s word, not Atkins’.

The milchama with lechem stops when we can eat it proportionately and spiritually. When we enjoy our fill — rather than demonizing, avoiding or sinfully binging on it — we are redeemed. By the mouth of God, bread was created, as was light, as were we, in His image. Our purest source of nourishment is Divine love, manifest in our capacity to lift up the vital force in all foods through our own utterances of gratitude. The war becomes love when we bless Adonai, who takes bread from out of the earth. With these words, hamotzi lechem min haaretz, we also praise the Creator for taking war out of the world. Ah, to eat a knish in peace.

Using both bread and body to service the Divine, lightness and purity from within their mundanity shine in vital beauty. By mimicking the word of God, we consume the blessing we offer; our souls are fed by sacred words and our bodies are sated and sustained. We remember that while “carb” may be a four-letter word, so, too, is the unutterable name of God, and that’s the furthest thing from a curse there is.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at

Not by Bread Alone

One of my most memorable Torah lessons from elementary school was the one about the manna. This was the magical food that the Jews ate while traveling through the desert. It was some kind of amorphous bread that fell from heaven daily, and the Torah describes it as being like honey wafers. Part of the magic of the manna was that it could taste like whatever one wanted it to. And this is where the imagination of the wide-eyed child was piqued: If you were thinking about pizza, the manna tasted like pizza; if you were thinking about a thick, juicy steak — well, you get the picture.

Early in the 20th century lived a venerated sage who was known as the Chafetz Chaim. A student once asked him: What did the manna taste like if you weren’t thinking about anything? The Chafetz Chaim responded that in that case, the manna had no taste whatsoever. And so it is, he concluded, with all spiritual endeavors in life — be it prayer or the performance of a Jewish ritual — if you don’t apply your mind to the task at hand, it’s usually a bland and tasteless experience.

Our Torah portion describes the manna as both a benevolent miracle and a burden. Describing God’s great love for the Jews, the verse says (8:3), "He afflicted you and made you hungry; He fed you the manna which neither you knew nor did your fathers. He did this in order to inform you that man does not live by bread alone; rather, man lives by the word of God."

Manna was a food that tasted like whatever you wanted, and that fell from heaven daily — so why is it called an "affliction"?

Another Midrash tells us that the reason we light Shabbat candles every Friday night is to remind us of the manna. What in the world is the connection?

Despite its wonderful qualities, the only problem with the manna was that it didn’t look like the food one was thinking of. As any caterer will tell you, taste is only one component of a pleasurable culinary experience. Of equal importance is the presentation — how the food appears on the plate. That is why, according to the Midrash, blind people don’t enjoy their food as much as sighted people — they sadly miss out on the visual pleasure of eating. Similarly, the manna may have tasted wonderful but it lacked the other esthetically pleasing qualities of food.

One of the reasons the rabbis wanted us to light Shabbat candles was to allow us to have a more pleasurable eating experience at the Shabbat table. With light on the table, not only can we taste delicious food, we can also see the glistening beads of schmaltz reflecting off the matzah balls, the grainy-textured brisket exuding gravy and the golden orange fluff of the sweet tzimmes.

As soon as the Jews entered the land of Israel the manna suddenly stopped. It was now the job of each person to cultivate the soil of the Holy Land, and to work by the sweat of one’s brow to put food on the table. No longer would the Jews suffer the "affliction" of the amorphous manna.

When the Jews were in the desert, they were in a developmental stage, like a worm in a cocoon, waiting to emerge as a mature butterfly. During this gestation period, they were living an existence that was as detached from the physical world as possible, so they could drink in all of the spiritual lessons that needed to be inculcated within the Jewish nation at its inception point. But this was an artificial, temporary existence. The "real world" was waiting for them on the other side of the Jordan River, when the physical world, despite all its vicissitudes and flaws, would perforce be an integral part of their lives.

We live in that world as well. The manna teaches us that while detachment from the physical may be desirable at limited intervals, the best way to serve God is by integrating one’s physical experiences and raising them up to a place of holiness. We are meant to use the visceral experiences of eating and other mundane activities as a means of coming closer to God.

It may be true that "man does not live by bread alone," but he also cannot live by manna alone. Now that we have been blessed with our bread, let us lift it up as we recite the Hamotzi blessing and thank God for the blessings of both a spiritual and physical life.