Meaning of Time
Recently, my wife was diagnosed with an intracranial tumor. Though benign, this large tumor exerted pressure on her optic nerve, and she experienced significant loss of vision over a period of several months. For a long time, we were in the dark as to the cause of her problem.
As it turns out, even a benign tumor can be a challenging problem that forces us to reflect on the uncertain nature of life.
Time is the precious resource that makes up our lives. Some people say, “time is money”. That implies that our driving goal is money and the limited resource that we are given to acquire money, is time.
Sefer Devarim offers a startling notion about life. Throughout Devarim, the Torah exhorts us to keep G-d’s commands. The message that reverberates throughout the Sefer is that we do so for our own good. In Nitzavim, the Torah states that G-d places blessing and curse before us and that we should “choose life in order that we should live” and we should hearken to G-d’s voice and cling to Him.
The blessings come through Mitzvot, our connection to the Creator of life. Through Mitzvot, we fulfill this aspiration of clinging to G-d. Likewise, in our Parsha the Torah asks: What does G-d ask of you other than to fear Him and keep all of His Mitzvot for your good?
Not by Bread Alone
The goodness of the Mitzvoth is placed in the context of bread. The Torah teaches us that we should always recall the path that G-d led us on in the wilderness.
G-d afflicted you and made you hungry and fed you the Manna that your fathers did not know, in order to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but rather by all that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.(Devarim 8, 3)
How does the Manna teach us that we live by “all that emanates from the mouth of G-d”? One way of looking at it is that Manna comes directly from G-d. Human hands toil to produce bread. Not so the Manna. The Manna falls from the heavens, and when we eat it, we are living by what “emanates from the mouth of G-d”.
But that interpretation doesn’t completely explain the verse. After all, even bread comes from G-d. What is so unique about Manna that it alone teaches us that we live by the mouth of G-d?
The Da’as Zekeyenim (13th C Torah commentary) offers a different interpretation. He writes that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by all that emanates from the mouth of G-d – that is, the Mitzvot. Eating Manna imbues within us with this sense that we live through Mitzvot.
Why is that so? Whether we eat bread or Manna, there are always Mitzvoth involved such as Birkat HaMazon? If we turn back to Shemot 16, we find a discussion of the Manna. The Torah states that G-d caused this bread to rain from the heavens “in order to test whether they will walk in my Torah or not”.
Rashi adds, “to see if we will walk in the Mitzvot of the Manna such as not leaving it over for the next day or collecting on Shabbat”. The idea is that, more than regular bread, Manna is connected to the Mitzvot. In light of this, when we ate Manna, we integrated the sense that we live not by bread alone, but by the Mitzvoth that emanate from G-d.
The Bread of Life
The term “bread” denotes basic substance. Bread is a symbol of livelihood and it is something that man spends much of his time pursuing. In this light, the Torah is pointing to a foundational idea. Our instinct is to believe that we live by bread. Whether we call it bread or money, we feel that our efforts and their results are “the bread of life”.
But the Torah says, not by bread alone. We do not live on that material stability. Rather, by all that emanates from the mouth of G-d. Both bread and Manna come from the Creator. But Manna is in its essence a Mitzvah object that emanates from the mouth of G-d. Contrary to our innate thinking process, man lives by the Mitzvot.
The true substance of our life is not the toil of production but rather the Mitzvot that connect us to G-d. Bread is not the true substance of life. That status is given only to the Manna, which we ate in faith as we pursued knowledge of the Torah.
Mitzvot – a Lasting Connection
Mitzvot are the stuff that cannot be taken away from us. Mitzvot are actions, but their impact is everlasting. Think back to something that you feel truly good about within yourself. It might very well be a Mitzvah…
This past fall, I was sitting in Starbucks with a friend of mine who suggested that I should try to view myself “as a resource” for people. The idea stuck with me. Soon after, I happened to connect with an acquaintance who needed a specialized type of attorney to help them with a problem.
It so happened that I knew someone who knew someone who eventually helped this person in a major way. I was able to make a connection – to be a resource. When I looked back on this months later, I had a good feeling. And I realized that the good feeling came from doing something which is a Mitzvah, something good in its essence which cannot be taken away.
When Time Moves
I recalled this episode after my wife got her diagnosis. We were trying to figure out how to quickly get her the right medical care. I called a friend who was highly connected in the local medical community and thanks to his connections, within three days of our diagnosis, we were sitting with a top neurosurgeon in his office after hours.
Throughout the summer months, as Aviel struggled with her sight, time moved slowly. Then, we got that appointment and I felt things begin to change. I had a premonition that she would be in surgery by the coming Monday morning.
Sure enough, that Monday morning, she was wheeled off at 7:30 am into the OR for a lengthy and complex procedure. I was awed by the fact that time, which had been so stubborn, finally moved so quickly.
Hours in a surgery waiting room are a time of reflection.
A time to consider what we have and what can be taken away.
Following the operation, I was sitting in the ICU, next to my wife. I looked out the window at the parking lot and thought about the August plans we missed. Suddenly, it dawned on me that here, sitting next to my wife, I was fulfilling a Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim (visiting the ill).
A Mitzvah is something we can feel good about. It is something that time will never take away. A Mitzvah is a connection to life that will not be severed.
“Guard my Mitzvot and Live…”
The Mitzvot are the stuff that is really ours. Whether it is learning a deeper insight in the Torah, or helping out a friend in need, life is filled with small Mitzvot.
King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 7, Guard my commands and live. (Proverbs, 7, 2). (Notice he doesn’t write “guard your money and live!”)
What is the substance of life? Where is its essence?
Bread can be taken away.
In fact, we will not take a morsel of bread with us to the grave. The Mitzvot are actions that we do, but their results are not short lived.
As it says, not by bread alone does a man live but by all that emanates from the mouth of G-d does a person live.