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Parsha Ponderings – Eikev – “Mine”ing Mettle

ארץ אשר לא במסכנות תאכל בה לחם, לא תחסר כל בה, ארץ אשר אבניה ברזל ומהרריה תחצב נחשת

A land in which not in impoverishment shall you eat bread, you shall lack for nothing in it; a land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you shall mine copper

In contrasting the conditions of the wilderness with those of the Land of Israel that the Israelites were about to enter, Moshe makes specific mention of the fact that they would henceforth be able to eat bread in comfort rather than impoverishment. While in many ways Israel certainly did offer better conditions than the wilderness, it seems curious that Moshe would single out bread in this context, when we all know that the Israelites’ bread in the wilderness had been the heavenly Manna, which hardly lacked for sumptuousness. As our Sages tell us, the Manna possessed many phenomenal qualities, including the ability to conform its taste to the preference of its consumer and its non-production of post-consumer content, which ordinary bread can hardly claim to rival. What then, could Moshe possibly have meant in glorifying the bread of the Land over the “impoverishment” suffered by eating the Manna?

In resolving this difficulty, it is worth noting that Moshe does not state that they would no longer eat bread of poverty, but that they would no longer do so in poverty. Apparently, although the Manna itself was of exceptionally high quality, the manner in which the Israelites received it was one of impoverishment. Yes, they got great bread, but they had to wait in the bread line, so to speak, to receive it. The bread they ate was not one they had toiled for and earned or created on their own, but rather one that they received by virtue of the ongoing kindness of another; namely, the Creator. Thus, while the bread itself may have been better, the experience was far worse, and Moshe knew that news that they would henceforth be eating self-earned, albeit less-impressive, bread, would be received as good tidings.*

Interestingly, this very distinction between eating unearned bread and enjoying the fruits of one’s toil, is used by our Sages to describe one of Judaism’s basic precepts. Our Sages explain that although the ultimate intent of Creation is for Man to experience the joy of true spirituality, God specifically deprives us of that joy until we earn it through our toil. Although He could have certainly created a perfect world in which blissful spirituality was immediately tangible, God refrained from doing so, instead placing us in a world where the physical challenges the spiritual, because unearned spirituality could not possibly be experienced with the same depth as earned spirituality. As our Sages put it, God did not want us to “eat” nahama dikissufa, or “bread of shame”, meaning that He didn’t want to give us a free lunch. Simply put, one cannot possibly fuse with what he receives as a gift to the same degree that he can with something he earned, for he forever feels that the gift is not truly “his”.

Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of Moshe’s words. In the desert, he was saying, you were spoon-fed spirituality. God was right there for you, you faced very few real challenges, had little contact with physicality, and you quite literally lived in the clouds. All that, however, is about to change. You are about to enter “a land whose stones are iron”. You will face real, iron-like stumbling blocks; real challenges with no easy answers. You will be forced to remain spiritual in a physical world, to retain refinement in a world gone coarse. And yet, that land is a land “from whose mountains you shall mine copper”. The challenges you face and the mountains you overcome, are spiritual “copper” mines; they will provide you with precious, self-earned, and durable “mettle” (not a typo). You will evolve into an individual who does not “eat his bread in impoverishment”. Instead, you will be an individual who “lacks for nothing”, for your spirituality will have been gained from within, rather than granted from without. As the Torah states some verses earlier, the Land is ” a good Land; a land of flowing waters, with springs and ground-water coming forth from valley and mountain”. Yes, there are valleys and mountains in the real world. No longer shall you live in a static world of spiritual perfection. And yet, there are waters of life bursting forth from every peak and lurking beneath every ravine. There is spirituality to be gained from the lowest points of life in the real world, and there is spirituality to be gained from its highs, neither of which can possibly be gained in the flatlands of Spoon-fed-landia. There is nothing glorious about spending life on the vast and dreary plains of spiritual constancy. Don’t mope about the difficulties aboard the roller-coaster of spiritual life in a physical world. Get real. Man up. Earn your dough. Then bake it. Then eat it.




*Indeed, many commentators explain the intent of a previous verse, in which Moshe recounts how God “pained you [the Israelites] and let you hunger, and (then) fed you the Manna” in similar fashion; God provided the Manna only after the Israelites internalized the fact that they were helpless to help themselves, essentially destined to starve but for His grace.



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