Life can be seen as operating in two modes: the first is immersion in the spiritual, away from the world. This suggests being in a state of calm and peace, relative inactivity. Like Shabbat. Then comes the second mode, entry into the world and involvement with it, dealing with all its problems, struggling to improve it and create a better environment, a more wholesome society, a world of good.

Shabbat and the weekdays provide one example of this double mode of life. Another example is the time of daily prayer, saying the morning Shema and other prayers, compared with the hectic activity of a busy day.

A paradigm of this dual process is provided by the Torah. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, the Jewish people are camped in the desert on the eastern side of the River Jordan, not far from Jericho. They are in the final year of their long stay in the wilderness, and their great leader Moses, now nearly 120 years old, is preparing them for their entry into the Land of Israel.

The atmosphere in the large camp of the Jewish people, comprising 600,000 households and described by the Sages as being twelve miles square,1 was remarkable. At the center was the beautiful Sanctuary, made of gold, silver, cedar wood and exquisite tapestries. This was the prototype of the Temple which would later be set up in Jerusalem. There was a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, expressing the Divine Presence. Frequently the whole people would gather together and listen to the inspiring talks given by Moses, talks which he also wrote down in the Book of Deuteronomy, in a unique form of dictation by G‑d.

What did people eat? Manna from heaven. Every morning except Shabbat the arid land around the camp would be covered with a soft crystal-like substance which the Jewish people would gather. This comprised their food. It was delicious, and in fact, the Sages tell us, would taste of anything you wanted. But when a person ate manna, he or she felt as if they were partaking of something spiritual. It did not have the earthy quality of real, gut-desired food. When you ate manna you felt holy.

This spiritual atmosphere of the camp in the wilderness was not going to last for ever. G‑d’s purpose for the Jewish people was that they should enter the Land of Israel, plough and reap, raise cattle and sheep, and that when they ate food, sometimes at least, it would be with "desire." They would enjoy it, not just spiritually but also physically.

This change is symbolized by the fact that only when they entered the Land of Israel would they be able to eat ordinary meat. In the desert, meat was only eaten as part of an offering in the Sanctuary. In the Torah there is a special section instructing the people about eating "meat of desire" when they enter the Land of Israel, including the laws of shechitah, Jewish ritual slaughter, which is necessary for the meat to be kosher.2

Our task as Jews is not just that we should remain in the spiritual atmosphere of the desert, nor that we indulge in a week-long Shabbat, nor even spend all our lives immersed in prayer. We need these moments, in our history as a people and in our weekly and daily cycles of life. But we also have to be able to get up and go, to enter the daily world, to work at improving it. Part of this process means enjoying life, including food and other pleasures, in a meaningful way.

We bring G‑dliness and holiness into the practical world, into the realms of our desire. The rules of the Torah, like the laws of shechitah and kosher, enter our practical, earthly activities and bring them to a new level of holiness.

It is not the holiness of the forty years in the wilderness with the pillars of cloud and fire. It is something more. It is making this world, a world of pleasure and desire (and, sometimes, of temptation), into a dwelling for the Divine. This is our real task, symbolized by the move from manna to meat, the transition from the spiritual mode to that of practicality and reality.3