In trying to persuade Benei Yisrael that they were fully capable of conquering the Land of Israel despite the power of its inhabitants, Kalev and Yehoshua told the people, “…do not fear the residents of the land, for they are our bread” (14:9). The simple meaning of this metaphor is that the Canaanites were, in Kalev and Yehoshua’s assessment, as easy to defeat as food is to consume. Just as one eats his bread without having to worry about any opposition or resistance on the bread’s part, Kalev and Yehoshua firmly believed that with God’s help, Benei Yisrael would have no trouble whatsoever defeating the Canaanites.
The Maharsham (cited in Likutei Batar Likutei), however, found a deeper meaning in Kalev and Yehoshua’s analogy. The term “lechem” (“bread”) generally refers to one’s basic sustenance, as opposed to luxuries. The basic difference between our basic necessities and the additional amenities we desire is that we are prepared to work much harder for the former than for the latter. If securing one’s basic needs demands a great deal of grueling work and exertion, he is prepared to invest whatever efforts are necessary. This is not the case when dealing with luxury. While many people are certainly prepared to invest work and effort to obtain luxuries, the extent of this effort is certainly far less than that which they would invest to secure their basic sustenance. And thus, the Maharsham suggests, when Kalev and Yehoshua compared the conquest of Eretz Yisrael to “bread,” they intended to convey the message that for them, this undertaking was a necessity. The nation’s possession and settlement of their homeland was a basic need, not a “luxury” that could be dispensed with if it seems too difficult. Kalev and Yehoshua insisted that the land could be taken with ease, but they also indicated that even if not, it must be done anyway. Settling Eretz Yisrael must be regarded as “lechem” – a basic national necessity, and not as an extra amenity to be enjoyed only when easily attainable.
We of course hope and pray that our efforts to study and observe the Torah proceed smoothly and without struggles or obstacles. Invariably, however, and perhaps even more often than not, this is not the case. The Maharsham’s insight, though said in specific reference to settling the Land of Israel, must be applied to the full range of Torah obligations, and should remind us to view them as “lechem” – a matter of necessity. Torah and mitzvot must be our priority not only when they are convenient and accessible, but even when they entail struggle and hard work, as they so often do. Once we recognize that the Torah is our “bread,” one of our basic life necessities, we will be more prepared to put in the effort that is needed to excel in its study and observance.