“Eating Bread Without Poverty”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Eikev, Moses continues to encourage the nation of Israel to trust in the Al-mighty. This trust and faith would ensure the people’s communal prosperity, guarantee their conquest of the land of Israel, and provide unparalleled blessing in every aspect of their lives. Faith will be the key to the people’s success, and lack of faith will result in much pain and suffering.

Parashat Eikev opens with the theme of love. Moses assures the people (Deuteronomy 7:13-16) that G-d will love them, bless them, and multiply them, will bless the fruit of their womb, the fruit of their land, their grain, their wine and their oil, the offspring of their cattle, and the flocks of their sheep and goats. They will be the most blessed of all people and will achieve great victories over their enemies.

Following the assurance of G-d’s love, the Torah dwells on the importance of gratitude, a cornerstone of proper religious ideology. Although G-d tested the people, subjecting them to hardships and hunger, He then gave them the Manna to eat, made certain that their clothes did not wither, and that their feet did not swell for 40 years. Israel has very good reason to express gratitude.

The Torah then emphasizes the goodness of the Promised Land, graphically illustrating the nature of the “good land,” a phrase that appears no fewer than ten times in the book of Deuteronomy. The Torah proudly enumerates the species and fruits for which Israel is renowned: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and the honey of dates.

In Deuteronomy 8:9, scripture states: “Eretz ah’sher loh v’mis’kay’noot toh’chahl bah leh’chem, loh tech’sar kohl bah,” a land where you will eat bread without poverty-–you will lack nothing there.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 8:11-14) again warns the people not to forget G-d or neglect the observance of His decrees and commandments. Beware, scripture warns, lest you eat and be satisfied, increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything you have will increase, and your heart will become haughty and you will forget the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery.

The Torah particularly admonishes the people against hubris, and against those who say in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:17), “My strength, and the might of my hand, made me all this wealth.”

It is well-known that often the challenge of wealth can be greater than the challenge of poverty. Yet, to paraphrase Tevye: Wouldn’t it be nice, if sometimes, G-d would allow us to prove to Him that winning the lottery will not spoil us!

Perhaps the most difficult to comprehend of all the blessings in the aforementioned statement of Deuteronomy 8:9 is the blessing in which the Torah declares that the Land of Israel is a land where the people will eat bread without poverty, and will lack nothing there. Can that be true? What is the meaning of this promise of unremitting abundance and prosperity?

Both the classical and contemporary commentaries are hard-pressed to explain this challenging assertion. Some of the commentators, including Rabbeinu Bachya, resort to a metaphorical interpretation, concluding that “bread” here does not literally mean bread that is eaten, but rather refers to bread as a euphemism for Torah, as the verse in Proverbs 9:5 states, “Come eat of my bread,” meaning Torah. The commentators similarly interpret the verse in Genesis 2:12, “The gold of the land is good,” to mean that there is no Torah like the Torah of the land of Israel, and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of the land of Israel.

The statement, “You will eat bread without poverty,” therefore means that you will not find any scarcity of Torah in the land of Israel. The very air of the land of Israel makes one wise. Whereas scholars who live outside of the land of Israel are subject to the bread of affliction and poverty, this is not so in Israel.

A number of commentators insist that the verse be taken literally. The Kli Yakar states:

Our land [Eretz Israel] is different than the land of Egypt, of which we are told (Exodus 1:11), “They built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Ramses,” where they would store produce and wheat for bad years. The land of Israel doesn’t need storage cities, it always has abundance, and has no need to save from one year to another. Its crop is blessed every year without a break.

The Or HaChaim explains the expression, “Nothing shall be lacking in it” to mean that there is no other country in the world as self-sufficient as the land of Israel. While some countries have abundant crops, they lack other essentials. These countries must pay to import those things that it does not have. The land of Israel, however, is so blessed with abundance that it will not need to import anything, since everything is available in the country itself.

The Oznayim LaTorah explains that the word “full” in the verse (Deuteronomy 8:10), “You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless,” refers to G-d’s ability to make every person feel satisfied. G-d can sanctify a person’s desires in such a way that the person will feel satisfied with whatever he has, even if it is little. This is what is meant in the well-known Psalm 145:16, Ashrei, that assures that G-d satisfies the desire of every living thing, by allowing them to feel satisfied with what they have.

Thus, according to many commentators, the blessing given to the land of Israel is that all its inhabitants will be satisfied with what they possess.

May we too prove worthy of this unparalleled blessing.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This year, the joyous festival of Tu b’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Sunday night and Monday, July 21st and 22nd, 2013. Happy Tu b’Av (for more information, please click here).