Not By Bread Alone

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

The next time you sit down to eat a nice salad, give a little thought to the poor cows. Day in, day out, all they eat is plain old grass.

Imagine a grass diet 365 days a year. Some days it’s wet, some days it’s dry. No dressing, no salt, just grass. After a while, all that grass can really get to you. Most of the world’s animals get along perfectly fine on a simple and consistent diet. But not man.


Human beings need variety. From a purely physiological standpoint, we can live on bread and water alone; so, what is behind our pursuit of fine dining, ice cream, bakeries, pastrami sandwiches, and other culinary delights?

Human beings, unlike animals, need meaning in life. The kabbalists explain this as one of the parallels between the material and spiritual worlds: This drives us to want more than just bread. Even though it is a poor substitute for real fulfillment and meaning, food is often the focus of our quest for meaning.

This week’s Parsha contains one of the Torah’s most famous lines: “Man cannot live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Although these words are quoted frequently, the continuation of the verse is equally important: “”Man cannot live by bread alone, but by all that proceeds from the mouth of G-d.”

What the verse is telling us is that since man cannot live on bread alone, he will either fill that extra space with real meaning, or he will look for substitutes to that meaning, such as food.

In our day, restaurants are raised to the level of shrines, recipes are sacrosanct secrets, chefs are the high priests. Seeking the perfect sushi may make your cat’s day, but it will do nothing more than warm your stomach.

Notice that the more meaningful a day you’re having, the less your desire for food. We have all experienced days full of excitement and fulfillment when our desire to eat just seemed to disappear. When life is fulfilling, then we look less to food for satisfaction. We have something other than bread to be nourished by. On the other hand, we’ve all had depressing days where we desired to eat ad nauseam.

There is an easy way to gauge your spiritual level: If you need food to elevate your mood, you maybe failing to fulfill your spiritual needs.

Next time you find yourself looking to cookies to pick you up, hesitate a little. Try to define what it is you really want to achieve. Using cookies to obtain real meaning and fulfillment will only lead you further away from that place you truly desire.

By leading with your mind and not your stomach, by thinking about what is truly bothering you and what you are truly looking for, you can avoid the quick and empty “fix” that food offers, and instead find the meaning for which you so long.

Don’t give chocolate cake to a hungry soul.

By Rabbi Stephen Baars 

Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at and