Man does not live by bread alone. A famous line (it even figured prominently in an ad for a burger chain some years ago), but what does it mean?

The verse comes from this week’s Torah reading, and is a reference to the miraculous manna, which fell from heaven daily during the Jewish people’s sojourn in the wilderness. The conclusion of the verse is that “rather, by the utterance of G‑d’s mouth does man live.” Thus, it is reminding us about the true source of human sustenance.

Contrary to popular belief, it is neither our earthly toil, nor the sweat of our brow, nor all those conferences, meetings and sales seminars that ensure our success. The reality is that it is G‑d who sustains us and looks after us, in the very same way as our ancestors trekking through the desert were totally dependent on Him for their daily bread. Wealth is a G‑dly gift. At the end of the day, it is not our business acumen alone that provides our daily bread, but the blessings from Above which endow our efforts with success.

Ask anyone in sales how often their best-laid plans and pitches have come to naught, and then, out of the blue, a big order comes in with little or no effort. Of course, it’s not the rule, and we must be prepared to put in effort if we are to succeed. But when it does happen, it reminds us that there are higher forces, beyond our control, at work.

But there’s another meaning to this verse as well. Man does not live by bread alone. The human spirit is such that we crave more than bread. Human beings are never satisfied with money or materialism alone.

Money is important, but we cannot live by money exclusively. What about job satisfaction? I know a number of individuals in our community who willingly gave up lucrative positions for less rewarding ones, because they found their work unstimulating. They were making lots of cash, but there was no emotional reward.

I also know people who have it all financially, but who are nonetheless unhappy people. They are very successful—and very miserable. The successes we achieve do not guarantee our happiness. After we’ve bought the house of our dreams, and our fantasy sports car, and the latest cell phones, laptops and DVDs, we tire of them all. For satisfaction to be lasting, it must be more than material; it must be spiritual. We need more than bread and money; we need stimulation and a sense of meaningful achievement. We need to know that our lives have purpose, and that somehow we have made a difference. We want to be assured that our work is productive and will have lasting value.

They tell the story of a prisoner in a Russian labor camp whose job it was to turn a heavy wheel attached to a wall. For twenty-five years the prisoner worked at his backbreaking labor. He assumed that this wheel must be attached to a mill on the other side of the wall; perhaps he was milling grain, or pumping water that irrigated many fields. In his mind’s eye he saw the plentiful crops and the sacks of milled grain feeding thousands of people. After twenty-five years of hard labor, when he was about to be released, the prisoner asked to be shown the apparatus behind the prison wall. There was nothing there! The wheel was just a wheel—all his “work” had served no useful purpose. The man collapsed in a dead faint, absolutely devastated. His life’s work had been in vain.

We have a deep-seated need to know that our life’s work is purposeful, physically and spiritually. When we understand that every good deed is attached to a complex spiritual apparatus, that our every action meshes with a systematic structure of cosmic significance, then our lives become endowed with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

We desperately need to know that, in some way, our work is helping others—that we are making a contribution to society beyond our own selfish needs. Then, we live. Then we are happy.

Man does not live by bread alone. We simply cannot.