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Rich Bread, Poor Bread

The Jews spent forty years in the desert preparing to enter the land of Israel, where they would begin their mission: to make the world into a “dwelling place” for G-d, who specifically desires to dwell in the lower realms. Our sages explain that the “lower realm” is the physical world, where G-dliness is almost completely concealed. G-d created the world in this manner intentionally, to give us the opportunity to discover Him on our own and thus enter into a partnership with Him.

Being in the desert was a challenging time for the Jews. They spent forty years not knowing where they would sleep the next night, or what they would eat. They had to place their sole trust and reliance on G-d. But these characteristics would stand them by well when they entered the land and engaged in more stable pursuits such as agriculture and commerce. They would never forget the lessons that they learned in the desert – true security does not come from wealth but from reliance on G-d.

As a rule, challenges come in two forms: The trial of poverty and the trial of wealth. The Jews experienced both types of trials in the desert, both connected with manna, the miraculous food from heaven that sustained them for 40 years. On the one hand it was a rich food – it had no waste, and contained with in it the taste of any food one could desire. But it also was the bread of poverty, because none could be stored from day to day. Each night they went to bed with no provisions whatsoever, with only the hope that G-d would once again provide for them the next day.

It may seem strange that the same food can be both rich and poor. But this is because manna was an unearthly food. It sustained them completely, with no waste, but it also did not quite satisfy. We are used to physical foods which have some bulk to them, which contributes to the feeling of satiety. Like spirituality itself, manna had an ethereal feel – something that we could not quite grasp, could not make part of us.

This dichotomy, between spiritual and physical, poor and rich, can also be found in wisdom; There is Torah wisdom, and then there is worldly, secular wisdom. Secular wisdom is satisfying on an intellectual level – we can grasp it, make it our own. We can study Torah and appreciate its Divine qualities, but because of its lofty origin it remains slightly elusive, out of our grasp. 

The evil inclination might try to convince us to spend less time studying Torah and more time accumulating secular wisdom. After all, advanced education is the pathway to success and prosperity. How will we ever earn a living if we spend all our time studying Torah? However, a Jew is in essence spiritual. We need to study Torah to remain connected to G-d. It is essential to our survival. No other type of study will meet this need, and even the greatest accumulation of wealth will ever satisfy if our spiritual needs are not met. That is why our ultimate aspiration is the era of Moshiach, when everyone will dwell “under his vineyard and under his fig tree” and “the occupation of the whole world will be to know G-d.”

 

 


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