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Parshas Beshalach
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Turning Away … and Inward

Shortly after Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea, Hashem informed Moshe (Shmos 16:4) that the Bnei Yisroel were about to receive miraculous, heavenly bread each day. This food would later be referred to by the Jews as the manna, or the ‘mon’. The initial pasuk that describes the gift of the ‘mon’ ends with a cryptic comment that will be the focus of our discussion this week.

Hashem told Moshe that the B’nei Yisroel will receive the mon each day “Lma’an anasenu hayelech bisorosi im lo – so that I can test them whether they will follow My teaching or not (16:4).” Thus, the Torah implies that the mon had a dual purpose. In the physical realm, the mon provided sustenance for the Bnei Yisroel in the harsh and desolate climate of the desert. Additionally, it would seem that there was a spiritual component to the mon as well, a litmus test of sort which would determine whether or not the Bnei Yisroel were truly following the Torah that they had so recently received.

The Nature of the ‘Test’

Our meforshim (commentators) offer several approaches to understanding the nature of the ‘test’ that the mon presented.

Rashi suggests that the ‘test’ was a simple and practical one. Would the Bnei Yisroel follow the halachos that pertained to the mon or would they not adhere to them? Moshe introduced the mon to the Jews and informed them that they 1) should not set aside mon from one day to the next, and they 2) should not leave their homes on Shabbos to collect mon. Thus along with the gift of the mon came the challenge of following Hashem’s commandments regarding its use.

The Ramban agrees with Rashi that the Bnei Yisroel were tested to see if they would follow the halachos of the mon. He maintains, however, that there was a deeper test implied by the words of the Torah – a trial of faith. The Ramban points to Sefer Devarim (8:16) where the Torah poses the challenge of the mon as an analysis of their bitachon (faith in Hashem). Will the Bnei Yisroel follow Hashem even if were not certain that they would have food for the following day? Thus the Jews were continually tested as to the level of their faith by only being given enough mon for one day at a time; except for Friday when they received a double portion. (See Sifsei Chachamim 16:4, for an explanation of why Rashi did not embrace the reasoning of the Ramban.)

The Ohr Hachayim presents the reasoning of the Ramban and adds another dimension to the ‘test’ of the mon. He explains that the nature of the mon was such that it needed no preparation at all. No plowing, planting, harvesting or cooking was required. Thus, the Bnei Yisroel were free to engage in learning the Torah of Hashem without distractions during the forty years in the desert. Removing the daily drudgery of seeking food by offering the ready-to-eat mon was a great gift, but it presented the Jews with a ‘test.’ Would they devote themselves properly to learning Torah now that all their needs were provided to them or would they find other distractions to prevent their spiritual growth?

Would You Take the Pill?

Permit me to share with you an additional insight into the ‘test’ of the Jews; a thought of mine that I used to share with my eighth-grade talmidim when I taught these pesukim.

I would ask them the following question: What if I was to offer you a supply of pills, each of which would supply you with all the nourishment that you would need for an entire day? Would you take it, knowing that you would not need to eat? Or, would you refuse the pill and rather partake in eating meals (and snacks)?

That, in a nutshell, was the supreme nisayon of the mon, I believe, in addition to those noted by the Rishonim z’tl. The Jews in the desert were given a gift – the opportunity to circumvent many of their physical needs for forty years. Their food was provided for them fully prepared and they didn’t need to buy clothing. Sounds perfect, right?

Of Blessings – and Tests

But as we know, every blessing comes with challenges. The challenge of that generation was to achieve a very exalted level of ruchniyus (spirituality), one of serving Hashem without distractions. And even their food was spiritual in nature. For the most part they succeeded. However, they transitioned from lowly slaves to complete freedom and great kedusha in a very short period of time. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would slip and complain to Moshe about various aspects of their physical needs from time to time. Most telling was the time (Bamidbar 11:5) when they complained about not having the assortment of fish and vegetables that they enjoyed in Egypt. They simply missed the physical enjoyment of eating.

One of my high-school rebbeim would tell us, partly in jest, that our images of Gan Eden and Gehennom are incorrect. When Moshiach comes, he said, we will learn Torah all day. For those who lived spiritual lives, this will be absolute Gan Eden – the opportunity to learn and serve Hashem without distractions. For the others, he explained … (As a footnote; when I related this thought to several rebbeim and talmidim in our yeshiva last Thursday, my 8th grade talmid, Mordechai Friedman, asked a good question. He pointed out that the analogy was incorrect, since Chazal tell us that all neshamos leave Gehennom after 11 months! I responded that after time in the presence of Hashem, even those in Gehennom eventually appreciate the glory of His presence.)

Basic Training

Hashem placed us in this world to search for His presence, to perform his mitzvos and connect with His Shechina. I would suggest that as training for that life, he gave the first generation of Jews after Kabbolas HaTorah a slice of Gan Eden – with little in the way of physical distractions – as a sample of what Gan Eden will be.

It is interesting to note that Shabbos is quite similar to that experience. A beautiful opportunity to enjoy our Me’ein Olam Habah (a slice of the World to Come, see Friday night’s zemiros, Mah Yedidus.)

Shabbos, like the mon, and our time in the desert, is a blessing, an opportunity – and a test of sorts.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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