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Parashat Beshalach: "Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone"

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

by Rav Itamar Eldar

Yeshivat Har Etzion



ParAshat Beshalach

"Man does not live by Bread alone"



            Our parasha opens a new and unique period in the history of the Jewish people. When the dust raised by Pharaoh's galloping horses settled, and the sounds of the drowning Egyptian soldiers became silent, and Israel's song of the sea came to an end, the children of Israel found themselves facing a great wilderness, "a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water" (Tehilim 63:2). Now their hearts turned to the difficult questions that the situation invited. Where will they go? How will they know the direction? Who will save them from the Amaleki plunderers? What will they eat and drink?


            The common denominator shared by all the answers that the children of Israel received to their questions/complaints was that they were facing a new reality in the wilderness, a unique and one-time manner of Divine governance, which was never to be repeated in all of Jewish history from that time until today.


            That manner of governance found expression in the pillars of fire and cloud, in the Divine clouds that hovered over them, in the hands of Moshe that subdued every enemy, and in the well of Miryam that provided water. That governance came to a climax in the manna that fell for Israel from Heaven and more than anything else symbolized the nature of that governance.


            In this lecture, we shall try to examine, from a chassidic perspective, the uniqueness of that governance, the questions that it raises, and the lessons that may be learned from it.




            The manna accompanied the children of Israel through the entire period of the wilderness, as is explained at the end of the biblical section describing the manna:


And the children of Israel did eat the manna for forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they did eat the manna, until they came to the borders of the land of Cana'an. (Shemot 16:35)


            Scripture relates how the eating of manna ceased when Israel entered into the land:


And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Yericho. And they did eat of the corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn, that very day. And the manna ceased on the morrow when they ate of the corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the produce of the land of Cana'an that year. (Yehoshua 5:10-12)


            It follows, then, that following the first Passover at the time of the exodus from Egypt, the manna began to fall from heaven, and immediately after the first Passover at the time of Israel's entry into the land, the manna stopped falling, and the people began to eat of the produce of the land.


            The distinction between eating of the produce of the land and eating manna is recorded in the Torah in Moshe's parting speech from the children of Israel, when he prepared them for their entry into the land. We shall the bring the relevant portion of that speech in its entirety, for it is the basis for all follows in the rest of the lecture:


All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live. Your garment grew not old upon you, nor did your foot swell, these forty years. You shall also consider in your heart, that, as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him, for the Lord your God brings you into a great land, a land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey; a land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land the stones of which are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. When you have eaten and are replete, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you forget not the Lord Your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes, which I command you this day; lest when you have eaten and are replete, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, in which were venomous serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought forth water for you out of the rock of flint; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers knew not, that He might afflict you, and that He might prove you, to do your good at your latter end; and you say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth. But you shall remember the Lord your God; for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if you do at all forget the Lord your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before your face, so shall you perish; because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God. (Devarim 8)


            The first distinction that Moshe makes between eating the produce of the land in Eretz Israel and eating the manna is expressed in the words: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live."


            The manna falls for Israel day after day, and every day the children of Israel are commanded to finish their portions and not leave anything over for the next day. This is to preserve, sharpen and emphasize their absolute dependence upon God. The fact that there is no need to toil and prepare the land for the phenomenon of the manna sharpens the idea that we are dealing with a "word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord."


            In Eretz Israel bread is provided in a mediated manner. A person plows, sows, and irrigates, harvests, grinds and bakes – all these actions being necessary before a person can eat bread. This is also the danger about which Moshe issues a warning. In a situation where man is so significant a partner in the preparation of his bread, he is liable to forget that here too we are dealing with a "word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." He may come to think, "my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth." The fact that the dependency upon God is not evident on a daily basis, and that the silos are full with grain, the storehouses replete with corn, and the supermarket shelves well-stocked with products diminishes the experience of dependency that the children of Israel had in the wilderness. And so, the recognition that we are dealing with a "word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" is no longer self-evident.


            The tension between manna and bread is the tension between two manners of Divine governance. This is way R. Efrayim of Sudylkow explains this tension:


"They said one to another, Man hu (what is it?); for they knew not what it was" (Shemot 16:15). We may say about this in the manner of allusion what God in His mercy and great loving raced me with, in that way that my grandfather said about the verse (Yirmiya 17:7): "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." This is the substance of his words. There is a bote'ach, a mavti'ach, and a muvtach. A bote'ach is one who trusts; a mavti'ach is one who promises; and a muvtach is the cause owing to which he trusts that the promise will be kept. For example, God, blessed be He, is a mavti'ach, who promises man that He will provide him with all his needs and all his wants when he walks in His path. Man is a bote'ach who trusts this. And the muvtach is that man trusts that God will certainly provide his livelihood. But there must be a cause for this, a cause from God, blessed be He, through which he will have a livelihood, or business, or anything else. Such a person has not yet reached the essential faith. For the essence is to believe in God that He alone is, and there is none other than Him, that he needs no cause from which his livelihood will follow, for He is the cause of all causes. Even if he provides no cause or business or preparation for a livelihood, God can bring him a livelihood with His great mercy. This is "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose (mivtacho) hope the Lord is." That is, his muvtach should also be God, that He alone is, and there is nothing that serves as a cause for his livelihood or anything else, through which He will execute the matter. For He promises him that He does not need anything or any preparation to be a cause. Everything is solely God, blessed be He. Even when he receives something through some cause, he must believe with perfect faith that it is really God, blessed be He, who wished to sustain him in this manner, and not that it was necessary because of some cause or preparation. Only to trust in God. This is a great level. It may be said that this is alluded to in the verse, "They said one to another, Man hu (what is it?)." That is, in the sense of preparation, as in: "The Lord had appointed [vayman], etc." (Yona 2:1). That is, that one must prepare some cause through which to have a livelihood. "For they knew not what it was" – that is, they did not attain this level to know and believe what it was, namely, that even the cause is Him Himself, as it were, God, blessed be He, cause of all causes. (Degel Machane Efrayim, Beshalach).


            The author of Degel Machane Efrayim, following his grandfather, the Besht, assumes three basic concepts: bote'ach, mavti'ach and muvtach. At first glance, these concepts are obvious. Every promise includes a mavti'ach - who gives the promise, a bote'ach - the recipient of the promise, and a muvtach – the substance of the promise. But R. Efrayim deepens the idea of muvtach.


            The muvtach, according to R. Efrayim, is not only the substance of the promise, but also the circumstances in the framework of which the promise can be fulfilled, or as he puts it, the "cause." When a person receives a promise, there are always circumstances that make its fulfillment possible. When I promise someone money, that promise is accompanied by various possible modes of fulfillment: cash, check, bank transfer, and the like. There are also more sophisticated ways of fulfilling the promise: waiving a debt, employment, and the like. There are many different ways to fulfill promises in this world.


            At first glance, this model accompanies us when we present God with our requests. In order for God to send us a livelihood, we must create a "cause." This might mean looking for work, or else looking for some long lost inheritance, or else buying a lottery ticket. In the Mussar literature, these actions are called "hishtadlut," "striving."


            While there must be faith in God, He being the batu'ach, there must also be striving, this being the muvtach.


            R. Efrayim, however, tries to elevate faith to an even higher level. He refers to the Besht's inference from the phrase, "whose hope (mivtach) the Lord is." It would appear, asks the Besht, that the muvtach is the substance of the promise, and not the maker of the promise. How, then, does God become the muvtach? The Besht answers that perfect faith is faith in which the muvtach is replaced, that is to say, where the means that might bring to the fulfillment of the promise disappear, and in their place, God Himself becomes the sole means of fulfillment. We are talking about faith in direct, unmediated profusion, and from this perspective there are no limits and no hindrances.


            This is the distinction between manna and bread. In order to obtain bread, says R. Efrayim, one must toil, preparing the land and creating causes, in order to receive manna, it was merely necessary to pray and believe. God Himself was Israel's mivtach, in that He provided the manna in an unmediated fashion.


            This understanding has both cognitive as well as practical ramifications.


            On the cognitive level, a person must recognize that even when his request is fulfilled by way of some means, he must not come to the mistaken conclusion that it was fulfilled because of that means. More than this! He must understand that his request did not have to be fulfilled in that manner. Had God wanted, He could have delivered the muvtach in an entirely different, unexpected and uncommon way.


            It seems, however, that we are also dealing here with practical advice, which is stated more explicitly in the following passage:


It seems that we can explain, at the level of allusion, that surely even now the Torah is only given to those who eat manna. That is to say, that if someone wishes to accept upon himself the yoke of the Torah, he must have trust in God, so that he not chase all day after a livelihood. Rather he must engage in little business, and occupy himself in Torah study and in prayer, and certainly the Holy One, blessed be He, will make his livelihood available to him each and every day. Even though the verse states: "I shall bless you in everything that you do" – I heard an explanation from the holy rabbi, R. Mordechai, av bet din of Nashchiz, of blessed memory, that [if] speech [lit. "turning of lips"] is considered an action regarding lashes, then surely, since a good measure is greater, speech in Torah is an action, so that "I shall bless you in everything that you do" should be fulfilled in him, that your livelihood should be blessed through speech involving Torah and prayer. Thus, if a person occupies himself more in Torah for its own sake, then he will be more confident that his livelihood will be greater. The more a person occupies himself in Torah and prayer, the more his livelihood will be provided for, for this is the essence of man's work in this world, as the Mishna states: "These are the things that a person eats of their fruit in this world… And Torah study is equivalent to them all." A person can certainly be confident that by moving his lips in Torah and prayer, his livelihood will arrive. This is the meaning of "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven… a certain portion [devar] every day" (Shemot 16:4). That is to say, from your words [diburim] of Torah and prayer shall you gather in your livelihood. For the more that your words of Torah and prayer are for their own sake, the greater will be your livelihood. This is the meaning of "That I may test them, whether they will follow My Torah or not" (ibid.). That is to say, if they do not follow My Torah for its own sake, they will not have a livelihood, and they will have to chase after it like a partridge in the mountains and the hills with great efforts for their livelihood. But if they follow My Torah, they will gather in their livelihood from their words themselves. (Ma'or va-Shemesh, Beshalach)


            R. Kalman Kalonymus states in a clear and unequivocal manner that a person must engage in business as little as possible, and occupy himself in prayer and Torah out of the faith and deep understanding that they will bring him his livelihood.


Both the author of the Degel Machane Efrayim and the author of the Ma'or va-Shemesh try to wipe out entirely the natural connections between cause and result. The picture that we see before our eyes, that bread results plowing, sowing, harvesting, and baking, is nothing but a kind of blindness, an illusion that we must ignore.[1] "The Torah was only given to those who eat manna," and we, contends the author of the Ma'or va-Shemesh, must be in our consciousness eaters of manna.[2] When we see bread on the grocery shelf, we must cognitively experience the bread falling from heaven in the wilderness. This experience, argues the Ma'or va-Shemesh, has a practical ramification, the readiness to waive the "rules" and totally devote oneself to Torah and prayer out of faith.


When we see a person toiling in his business to earn his bread, and then another person standing all day long in prayer, we are inclined to think that the first one is working to achieve his objective, and the second one is not. From the perspective of R. Efrayim and R. Kalman Kalonymus, however, the foundation of this assertion is wrong. The mistake lies in the assumption that there is a relationship between plowing, sowing, and harvesting, on the one hand, and bread, on the other. According to them, this connection must be severed; the relationship must be understood as chance and accidental. The direct connection between man and bread lies in prayer and Torah study, not in business, and so one's energies must be pointed in that direction.


The Ma'or va-Shemesh brings what would appear to be a refutation – the verse, "I shall bless you in everything that you do." This verse seems to imply that Divine blessing requires human action. However, he immediately rejects this argument and proves that prayer and Torah study constitute the human action that is required to draw Divine blessing.


This understanding gives an entirely different meaning to the idea of hishtadlut mentioned above. Hishtadlut is not done in the world of temporary and accidental "means," but rather in the true place – prayer and Torah study. The more these are intensified, the greater one's livelihood.


One might immediately argue that there is no contradiction! One can pray and also work. This compromise, however, does not satisfy R. Efrayim or R. Kalman Kalonymus.


First, because work and occupation necessarily come at the expense of Torah and prayer.


Second, because accepting the rules that we see before us requires that we adopt the mistaken picture that for bread, one must plow, and as we have seen, both R. Efrayim and R. Kalman Kalonymus refuse to accept this as the true picture.


            Going to work involves the statement that God is able to help me, but this is the only manner through which He can do it. Thus, there is a diminishment of the total experience of "but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live."


            When Moshe Rabbenu describes the eating of the "bread of the land" as opposed to the eating of manna, he speaks of "a land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness" (Devarim 8:9). Scarceness, so it would appear from the words of the aforementioned chassidic thinkers, is not such a great deficiency. During the period of their sojourn in the wilderness, all of the children of Israel were living below the line of poverty.  Their kitchens and cupboards were empty, for it was forbidden to leave over and stock up on food; even water was missing. This is scarceness, or in other words poverty and destitution. However, the power of this scarceness lies in the absolute dependence upon God, which trains a person to constantly experience reliance and hope.[3] "Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king" (Kohelet 4:13), said the wisest of men. Poverty is the quality that in the end leads to intimacy and communion.




            This idea leaves us greatly bewildered, for it would seem from Moshe's speech that Eretz Israel bears within it a great and positive challenge. "A land in which you shall not lack anything" is not described as a descent in faith or as a fall. It may involve certain dangers, but there seems to be independent value in the very governance of "eating from the produce of the land."


            R. Nachman of Breslov tried to clarify this issue and constructed a novel, complex, and revolutionary position on the matter.[4]


            In the following passage, R. Nachman notes the tension between receiving maintenance by way of nature and receiving it by way of a miracle:


The benefit of charity is exceedingly great, for charity is always beneficial, since the needs of the body are very great. And even the absolute necessities are many and very great: eating, drinking, clothing, and shelter. One can spend his days and years exclusively on the absolute necessities, and they greatly hinder a person from serving the Creator, even though they themselves are also service of the Creator, blessed be He. For they are the aspect of arousal from below, the act below arousing up above (Zohar, parasha Lekh Lekha, 77b, 86b, and many other places in the Zohar). For through all the occupations and labors that people do, the image of that labor on high in the act of creation arouses, and brings vitality and illumination to the image of that labor in the act of creation down below, which corresponds to that occupation and labor that a person does down below in this world. For through the occupations and labors that people do, the aspect of the Mishkan is formed, for all labors are included in the thirty-nine labors which are avot melakha, "avot implying that there are toledot" (Bava Kama 2). For all the types of labor and occupations that people do are included in the thirty-nine labors that are avot, and the rest are toledot. And the thirty-nine labors correspond to the labor of the Mishkan, as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said (Shabbat 49b): "The forty minus one avot of labor correspond to what? They correspond to the labors of the Mishkan." And the "image of the Mishkan is like the image of the act of creation" (Tikkunei Zohar, p. 12, introduction), and man performs the labor, "and the image of his body is like the image of the Mishkan" (introduction to Tikkunim, ad loc.). Thus, through a person who does the labor and occupation, the aspect of the Mishkan is made, when the labor and occupation is done properly, as it should be done. And through that he gives vitality and illumination to the act of creation, and this is maintenance of the world. Thus it follows that this too is service of the Creator. Nevertheless, if He would profuse His lovingkindness upon us, we would not need all this. For how did God, blessed be He, create the entire world after total nothingness, there having been no existence whatsoever, through which there could be arousal from below? But nevertheless, He created such worlds, entirely through His lovingkindness without any arousal from below whatsoever, having the aspect of "The world is built by lovingkindness" (Tehilim 89:3). Now, since the Blessed One was able to create such worlds without arousal from below whatsoever, but only through His lovingkindness, surely He can invigorate and maintain the worlds solely through His lovingkindness. We would not need any occupation or labor whatsoever, and even the absolute necessities would be performed by others, as it is written (Yeshaya 61:5-6): "And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named, Priests of the Lord," Priests of the Lord being precise, having the aspect of lovingkindness, the aspect of "The world is built by lovingkindness." That is, they shall be called, "Priests of the Lord," the aspect of lovingkindness, for they do not have to do any labor, since the world will exist through His lovingkindness, as stated above. But when the lovingkindness is hindered, God forbid, and He does not bestow His lovingkindness upon us, then we must act in order to arouse from below, as stated above. This is the aspect of (Tehilim 62:13): "But lovingkindness is also Yours, when You render to every man according to his work." That is, when the lovingkindness is withheld by Him, blessed be He, this being the aspect of "But lovingkindness is also yours," the lovingkindness being withheld by Him, blessed be he, and He not bestowing it upon us. Then: "You render to every man according to his work." That is, in accordance with the deeds and occupations that he does, so will the Blessed One, recompense, for people must act, since the lovingkindness is withheld by Him, blessed be He, and He does not bestow it upon us. But if he would bestow the lovingkindness upon us, we would not have to do anything whatsoever, and then would be fulfilled: "You render to every man according to his work," as if we had acted, for we are not required to do anything at all, when He bestows His lovingkindness, as stated above. (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 4, 3)


            In this passage, the ship of subjugation to the needs of this world throws R. Nachman from side to side.


            R. Nachman opens with a note of despair lamenting the bondage to which man is subjected merely to ensure his survival. He is not dealing with luxuries and extravagance, but with the most basic necessities: food, clothing, and shelter. These alone can keep a person busy all his life, and constitute infinite hindrances and obstacles to Divine service.


At this pessimistic moment, however, R. Nachman changes his tune entirely: "Even though they themselves are also service of the Creator, blessed be He." R. Nachman did not invent the idea that it is possible to serve God even through mundane life. This chassidic idea, from the school of the Besht, takes on various forms among its most prominent thinkers. Here, R. Nachman tries to give this idea a clearly kabbalistic dimension, based on the words of the Zohar: "The act below arouses up above." That is to say, the acts performed in this world cause an arousal in the heavenly world. This revolutionary assumption comes to teach us not only that the heavenly worlds and Divine ideas are connected to the lower, material world in which we live, but also that through our physical and material actions we can influence and repair them. The flow is mutual and the influence two-way. Sometimes the arousal of the upper world impacts upon the lower world, and sometimes the arousal of the lower world impacts upon the upper world. R. Nachman describes this activity in two ways:


First, asserts R. Nachman, man was not the first to be asked to act. The first action and labor was performed by God, as we testify every Shabbat: "And by the seventh day God ended His work which He had done" (Bereishit 2:2). That act of creation, according to the Zohar, was two-fold. To every creature created in this world there is a corresponding creation in the upper world. We can simplify the matter by saying that every thing that exists in this world has an idea from which it was formed and from which it draws its nurture. When God created wheat, he also created the angel to tell it at all times to grow, as R. Nachman states in a different passage. Here, however, man enters into the picture. Sometimes the idea arouses, and it initiates the profusion and growth of the lower creation, but in general, man must make demands of the angel and draw the lovingkindness and bounty from the idea. Indeed, it is the angel that tells the wheat to grow, but it is by the sweat of his brow that man causes the angel to say his word, and it is by the toil of his hand that he opens the windows of bounty, thus allowing the bounty to be bestowed.


This is the picture, explains R. Nachman, that stands at the basis of the reality standing before our eyes. Perhaps, we may add that this is also the reality of Eretz Israel as it is reflected in the world of Moshe in the eighth chapter of Devarim. Thus, the simple acts of plowing, sowing, and irrigating, which just a moment before seemed like purely technical acts, put on the dress of agency and partnership with God in the act of creation. We can now say that the continuation of "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth" (Shemot 31:17) is found in "Six days shall you labor, and do all your work" (Shemot 20:9).


R. Nachman, however, introduces another factor into the picture which elevates the world of action even further, namely, the Mishkan.


The Mishkan, as we know, is God's seat in the world, the place where God chooses to dwell in the world in general, and among Israel, in particular. The Mishkan, as R. Nachman cites from the Zohar, is integrally connected to the creation of the world - "the image of the Mishkan is like the image of the act of creation."[5]


According to R. Nachman, the connection between the act of creation and the Mishkan passes through the thirty-nine principal categories of labor (avot melakha). As he says, all the labors that we perform in this world are corollaries (toledot) of those thirty-nine avot melakha. When the children of Israel build the Mishkan in the wilderness, it is a microcosm of the Mishkan that Israel builds with the same thirty-nine melakhot and toledot, in each and every act and labor that they perform in the framework of their human existence in this world.


We can now say, then, that it is not only that through our material actions we influence the upper world, but rather that with each and every act and labor that we perform, we set down another layer in the framework of the construction of God's Mishkan in the world, and in the framework of the preparation of the world for the resting of God's Shekhina in it. "Thus it follows," concludes R. Nachman, "that this too is service of the Creator."


It seems that an allusion to this assertion may be found in the verses cited above.


For the Lord your God brings you into a great land, a land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey; a land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land the stones of which are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. When you have eaten and are replete, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. (Devarim 8:7-11)


            The transition from the wilderness to that of inhabited land is the transition from a situation of scarceness to a situation of "you shall not lack any thing in it." R. Nachman speaks here of the cost of scarceness, which on the one hand develops dependency and the awareness that "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live," as we have seen, but on the other hand it turns man into a poor and passive being.


            In Eretz Israel, man was given the chance to be a partner in the Divine bounty that descends into the world. There is no longer a Giver and a receiver, One who promises and one who receives promises, as the chassidic masters have painted it. Man in his actions is a partner in the bestowal of the bounty; God and man build the world together and glorify it.


Eretz Israel, with all its treasures, permits the children of Israel to take initiative, and when this is done out of a spiritual stance of "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live," Israel turns into God's partners in the creation of the world. This is an opportunity and it is a danger – the root of faith is the root of heresy.


Man's consciousness, in this case, sets and fashions the direction in which he will proceed. The period of the manna reminds man - God's partner - that this partnership is not total, and that in the end it is the word of God that gives him the strength to be a partner in creation and influence. According to this outlook, man must work to earn his living, but always remember the period of the manna that will restore to his consciousness the idea that "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live."[6]


With these words, R. Nachman restores the legitimacy, and perhaps we may even say, the ideal of working in this world in order to be a partner in the bounty and maintenance that descends into the world. However, he does not stop here, and again he is thrown to the other extreme: "Nevertheless, if He would bestow His lovingkindness upon us, we would not need all this"!


R. Nachman returns to the creation of the world, which this time serves as a support for the other side of the coin, for the world was created exclusively through God's free will, with no arousal from below, for the lower world did not even exist at the time. That lovingkindness through which the world was created, which is not dependent upon any act performed in the lower world, can continue and bestow bounty even in the continuation of its existence. Once again, then, according to R. Nachman, labor turns from an ideal into compulsion. R. Nachman concludes the passage on a hopeful note awaiting the day that God's lovingkindness will once again bestow its bounty on man without necessitating any actions on his part, and he even paints this reality with realistic colors, saying that even the most vital human necessities will be performed by others.[7]




            The issue of the need for human striving versus trust in God is a very wide topic, and we have set two polar views as the framework of our short discussion.


            According to the first view, brought in the name of the Besht by his grandson, the Degel Machane Efrayim, and by R. Kalman Kalonymus, author of Ma'or va-Shemesh, disciple of R. Elimelekh of Lyzhansk and the Seer of Lublin, man must ignore the natural world, and recognize thereby that there is no connection between the natural world, which seems to be the cause, and the bounty that descends into the world. Thus, the striving to bring the bounty down must be effected on the plain of prayer and Torah study, and not in the world of action.


            According to the second view, brought as a possibility by R. Nachman, work and occupation in this world have independent value. The natural world is not an obstacle that must be circumvented, but rather a challenge and an opportunity to become a partner in creation and in the bestowal of bounty in the world. According to this outlook, toil in this world has value and is worthy of blessing.


            We have seen that R. Nachman himself has certain reservations regarding this outlook, and it would seem that the following story, reported as a tradition among Breslov Chassidim, presents an original and exciting outlook that demands further study:


            It once happened that a certain beggar arrived in a great city in which lived two exceedingly wealthy people, the one a miser and the other generous in spirit.


            All of the city's inhabitants warned the beggar not to approach the miser, for in any event he will never get a cent from him. And so he should immediately set himself off to the generous-hearted man of means. The beggar took their advice, but unfortunately, he got lost on the way, and unknowingly knocked on the door of the miser.


The miser saw the beggar standing before him, and proposed to him as follows: "Go to the forest and chop trees until nightfall. Come back tonight with the trees and receive your wages."


After a day of hard and exhausting work, the beggar went back to the miser with a pile of wood. The miser saw the wood, smiled and said: "Go now to the door across the street, and there you will receive what you are looking for."


The beggar crossed the street and approached the door behind which lived the rich man with the generous heart. He knocked and asked for charity. The rich man pulled out his wallet and gave him a munificent gift.


Before taking his departure, the beggar asked the rich man for permission to ask a small question: "Why did I have to spend the entire day chopping wood, if in the end I received charity from you, and not from the man across the street? Are the two of you in cahoots?"


The rich man with the generous heart, immediately understood what had happened, and answered: "Listen well. You had to chop the trees as an effort made on your part. But without any connection, your maintenance you received from me."


This amazing story of R. Nachman tries to hold the rope from its two ends. On the one hand, he wishes to adopt the idea that there is absolutely no connection between causes and bounty. Our maintenance we receive "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." In contrast, however, to the view of the Degel Machane Efrayim and the Ma'or va-Shemesh, we must not forsake efforts on the natural level.


The ability to live on the one hand in the aspect of "eating from the produce of the land," which requires that we adopt the natural standards upon which the world rests, while on the other hand, to remain in the aspect of "eating manna" among those who ignore the means and feel that what "proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" is the only operative factor, is the amazing ability of R. Nachman who moves back and forth between the two extremes. It is what establishes the complex idea of striving and faith, that involves, on the one hand, "eating, being replete, and blessing the Lord," while, on the other hand, deep recognition that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live."




[1] There is a famous joke about a person who prayed to God that he should win the lottery, and when his prayer was not answered, he went to complain to his Rabbi. After clarifying the matter, the Rabbi discovered that the person had not bought a lottery ticket, and so he told him: "You must help God help you." R. Efrayim and R. Kalonymus would have told this Rabbi that his outlook expresses a lower level of faith than the level of faith that God will provide a person with what he wants even without any means [though it would seem that if this is the case, then the person should have prayed in more general terms for his maintenance, and not for winning the lottery. – ed. comment].


[2] "Eaters of manna" is a code word for the deep inner experience of absolute dependence upon God, an experience out of which the Torah can be given. The moment a person acquires independence, alongside the benefits, he loses the ability to listen, the ability to devote and efface himself before one who is greater than he. It is therefore precisely out of the experience of "eating manna" that the Torah could be given to Israel in a full and perfect manner.


[3] There are a number of Jewish businessmen in our society, who open the doors to their shops in the morning, and after having earned their maintenance, they close their shops and go off to study Torah until the following day. They do not save, they do not worry about tomorrow, and, as the Torah puts it, they do not "leave over until the morning." These are eaters of manna who wish to preserve the experience of dependency and trust even while they are living the aspect of "eating from the produce of the land."


[4] A deeper clarification of R. Nachman's outlook is not possible in this limited framework, and the matter requires special and separate treatment. For those who are interested, we shall note several fundamental passages in R. Nachman's writings, only one of which we shall relate to in this lecture:

Likutei Moharan Tinyana 4 – we shall deal with the first part of this teaching in this lecture.

Likutei Moharan Tinyana 15 – which R. Nachman opens with the question: "They ask: Why when a person prays for maintenance, is it not immediately given to him from heaven, but rather [given to him] through causes, each one according to his cause; this one must sow wheat, plow and harvest, etc. And this one must travel and find his maintenance elsewhere, or the like? Why is it not immediately given to him, all prepared, as soon as he asks for his maintenance?" And similarly in the prayer of R. Natan in Likutei Halakhot, part 2, no. 17.

Likutei Moharan Kama 47 – where R. Nachman deals with the aspect of a livelihood in Eretz Israel.

Likutei Moharan Tinyana 17 – regarding the relationship between nature and miracles.

Chayyei Moharan 135 – the aspect of Eretz Israel.


[5] This also follows from the concluding words of the section dealing with the construction of the Mishkan and the concluding verses of the creation story:

"Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting finished" (Shemot 39:32) – "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished" (Bereishit 2:1).

"And Moshe finished the work" (Shemot 40:33) – "And by seventh day God ended his work which He had done" (Bereishit 2:2).

"And Moshe saw all the work, and behold…" (Shemot 39:43) – "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was…" (Bereishit 1:31).

"And Moshe blessed them" (Shemot 39:43) – "And God blessed the seventh day" (Bereishit 2:3).


[6] "For this reason, the Shulchan Arukh writes that it is good to recite the story of the manna every day so that a person should know that his maintenance comes through Divine providence" (Ma'or Einayim, Beshalach). 


[7] It should be noted that R. Nachman was inspired by the following talmudic passage: "Our Rabbis taught: 'And you shall gather in your corn.' What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says: 'This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth' (Yehoshua 1:8), I might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore it says, 'And you shall gather in your corn' (Devarim 11:14), which implies that you are to combine the study of them with a worldly occupation. This is the view of Rabbi Yishma'el. Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai says: Is that possible? If a man plows in the plowing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as it says: 'And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks. etc.' (Yeshaya 61:5), and when Israel do not perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as it says: 'And you shall gather in your corn'" (Berakhot 35b).

R. Yishma'el and R. Shimon bar Yochai disagree whether the description of the reward promised to Israel in the Ve-haya im shamo'a passage is lekhatchila or bedi'eved. R. Yishma'el wishes to see the work of the land as an inseparable part of Divine service – "combine the study of the law with a worldly occupation (derekh eretz)" It is based upon the words of R. Yishma'el that R. Nachman bestowed religious spiritual meaning to derekh eretz. On the other hand, R. Nachman identifies strongly with the cry of R. Shim'on bar Yochai: "What will be of Torah." R. Shim'on bar Yochai decides the matter by distinguishing between those times when Israel do not do God's will, when they must perform their work by themselves, and those times when Israel do God's will, when their work will be done by others.


(Translated by David Strauss)