How would you complete the sentence: Jewish people ______ really well? I think it may be easy to jokingly fill in the blank with words like kvetch or argue. However, I would use the word “hope” instead.
The Torah portion Eikev contains the following quotation: “He (God) subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teachyou that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the LORD decrees” (Deuteronomy 8:3 from The Commentators’ Bible edited, translated and annotated by Michael Carasik). This statement is partially a comment on the Israelites’ vulnerability in the wilderness.
The commentator Rashbam explains that the “hardship” was that the Israelites did not know from where their next meal would come. They were totally dependent on heaven on a daily basis (Carasik 60). Though we may never have had to cross a desert, we can sympathize with the Israelites’ vulnerability and anxiety. We may worry if and when help will come to us or how we will accomplish a daunting move that would make for change.
At the same time, though, this verse expresses a deep level of hope. It suggests that God decrees what we can live on and can sustain us. The possibilities of people getting what they need may be greater than what they first perceive. We simply have to turn to the State of Israel to see this idea on a national level. Agriculture is an important industry in the land of Israel, even though only a small percentage of the land is naturally fit for growing crops. With advancements in technology, the Israeli people are able to provide the vast majority of the food they need. They have made a desert blossom.
We can also see this idea expressed on a more personal level. Our thoughts about what we need and what conditions must be in place for us to thrive may be too limited at times. We may think we need the “bread” of a certain amount of money or status, or the “bread” of alcohol or drugs, but we can prosper based on other things, like family, friends, or own internal strength.
I tend to take the view that embedded in our faith is a sense that there is a greater amount of hope in the world than we may first perceive. Things change even when we may think that they cannot. A couple who has trouble conceiving eventually gives birth to an entire nation, the people of Israel. A group of slaves goes free, though slavery seemed to be a permanent condition of life. We continue to hope for a messianic age when war and disease will cease. Hope is at the center of our religious world view.
We may not see from where hope can come, but that does not mean it is not coming.