Parashat Ekev contains this famous statement: "… not from bread alone does man live, but by everything that comes from the mouth of G‑d." (Deut. 8:3)

The spirituality in the what gives us our life force...

The Ari explains this verse to mean that not by physical food, but by the spirituality in the food, does man subsist. The spirituality in the food is the combination of Hebrew letters with which G‑d created the food (as related in Parashat Bereishit), and this is what gives us our life force when we consume it.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch-Chabad, takes this idea a step further. Saying that man lives by the spirituality within the food doesn’t give us enough information to truly understand the verse, he says, adding that the Ari actually implied something much deeper in his commentary.

The Alter Rebbe asks: How is it that man, who is at the pinnacle of creation, should be nourished and dependent upon creatures lower than him on the creative scale (mineral, vegetable and animal)?

The answer lies, he says, not only in the ten creative utterances of creation (found in Parashat Bereishit), but in another creative process, known as shevirat hakelim ("breaking of the vessels.")

G‑d initially brought a very high level of revelation of Himself and of spirituality into the world. He wanted to make us the beneficiaries of tremendous spiritual illumination and revelation. It turned out, though, that His creation was just not ready to receive it. The result was like pouring hot water into a cold cup - the cup breaks. Creation couldn’t take it.

The spiritual light of creation, so to speak, shattered...

The spiritual light of creation, so to speak, shattered, falling into places where it didn’t belong. The highest categories of creation fell furthest into the grasp of non-spiritual forces that actually hide, rather than reveal, G‑dliness in the world. The highest categories of creation fell into the kelipa, the shell that conceals G‑dliness.

When we eat these foods in a way which the Torah deems appropriate – meaning if they are kosher, and we eat them with a blessing – we lift them from their entrapment in unholy places, and return them to their spiritual source. Since that source is spiritually above humanity, we get a spiritual "lift" from the food, in addition to physical nourishment. The G‑dly sparks that were in the food impart the spiritual energy of their source, and we get a spiritual and physical lift.

Thus, "not by bread alone does man live, but by the world of G‑d entrapped in the bread..." That is, not only by the food itself, but by the G‑dly sparks inside the food, do we live. Humans, even though we are higher than the food we eat, live from the spirituality in the food, when it is returned to its source above us.

[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem" based on the Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources, translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne]