Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Of Bread and Potential: A D'var Torah for Parashat Eikev

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen 

This d'var was originally published by the Academy for Jewish Religion as part of it's weekly d'var Torah series.

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D'var Torah.

The grass dries out in the heat–

it’s brown now.

Flowering plants, and even shrubs,

are wilting,

their leaves dull and stiff,

the bright blue of the sky 

day after day

broken only 

by occasional fair-weather clouds,

as the temperatures soar

and relief doesn’t come.

Here in my yard,

the visible life and death question is

focused on plants,

and perhaps some pollinators

or creepy crawlers in the soil

(though the bunnies and woodchucks no longer graze outside my window,

and I’m wondering where and what they are munching instead).

Elsewhere, however,


are dying.

Humans cannot live by bread alone, (Deuteronomy 8:3)

our Torah text tells us,

and some rabbis say this means 

we actually can live on less–

although I find it impossible to imagine no need for water.

The text also says 

that humans can live on anything the Lord decrees,

and thus the manna from heaven was all we needed

as we wandered in the desert; 

it was, the rabbis teach us, 

the most superior food the Israelites could have eaten,

because it came directly from G!d. (Etz Chaim Torah and Commentary translation p 1040)

Rabbeinu Bahya explains to us that

the power of bread to keep us alive 

does not reside in its physical properties– 

the is true of any other food– 

but in the potential G!d has placed within it 

to sustain and grow 

those who consume it. 

It is a question of potential.

Rabbi Yohanan, according to Rabbeinu Bahya 

(in expounding on this verse in Vayikra Rabbah 20:7)

tells us that the closer we are to direct divine input, 

the less we need to rely on intermediaries

(think of all it takes to turn wheat into bread)

and the closer we are to the true life-giving forces of heaven.

This might lead us to conclude that water

or tomatoes

could have more power

than bread.

But in the book of Exodus we read 

that the leaders of the Israelites beheld God, 

and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:11)

Meaning that seeing G!d 

gave them the same energy 

that eating or drinking would have given them–

the effect of their vision

was the same 

as the effect of eating a three-course dinner.

As I consider this, the next verse in our parasha tugs at me: 

The clothes upon you did not wear out, 

nor did your feet swell these forty years. (Deuteronomy 8:4)

I watch the dying plants

and think about wearing the same item of clothing

day in and day out for forty years,

and having it still look and feel as good as new.

I try to imagine sandals so comfortable

that I could wander in them for forty years

and not get a single blister.

And I once again find my imagination inadequate for the task.

G!d said to Job:

Can you tie cords to Pleiades

Or undo the reins of Orion? (Job 38:31)

Can you send up an order to the clouds

For an abundance of water to cover you? (Job 38:34)

I watch the dying plants

and know that I can only take water from my rain barrel

until it is empty,

and that together with others in my town

we can only bring water out of our faucets 

until our town wells go dry.

None of us can order a rainstorm.

None of us can grow a kind of food 

that will, in and of itself,

sustain us with health and wellbeing year after year.

We may be able to send a spaceship

as far as the Pleiades, 

but no one I have ever known has seen G!d

and thus not needed to eat.

I am but human

seeking to grow ever closer to G!d,

seeking wellbeing in body and soul,

seeking, with my life,

to do as little damage as possible,

and bring as much blessing into the world

as I am able.

Through my prayers,

I’m reminded each morning that I am made in the Divine image

and that the dying plants before me are as well. (Ecology and Kabbalah: The Divine Image in the More-than-Human World by David Seidenberg)

I am reminded each morning that G!d made me free,

free to choose

free to decide that it is worth whatever effort it takes

to keep on trying to grow closer to G!d

to maintain as best I am able my body and my soul

to work hard not to do damage

but to bring blessing into the world.

And so I must eat,

for manna falls no more from the heavens

and even though the plants are dying,

as I savor my bread

I will strive to be grateful

that I am nourished.

It is a question of potential.


Rabbi Katy Allen (AJR ’05) is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. She blogs, and invites others to share their wisdom as well, at

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