SALT - Tuesday, 7 Shevat 5778 - January 23, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Beshalach of Benei Yisrael’s experiences when the manna began to fall to sustain them as they traveled through the wilderness.  The first day the manna fell, Moshe warned the people not to leave any manna over until the next morning, but there were those who disobeyed and put away some of their supply for the next day.  When the arose in the morning, they found that the manna had spoiled (16:19-20).
            Rav Yaakov Asher Weisfish, in his Iyei Ha-yam commentary, makes an insightful observation about this incident that might shed new light on the sequence of events.  When God first told Moshe that He would be providing miraculous food from the heavens, He informed him that He would be sending the people daily rations, and a double ration on Friday (16:4-5), but He did not warn against leaving manna over until the next day.  Rav Weisfish thus suggests that Moshe introduced this provision on his own.  God did not forbid leaving over manna, but Moshe told the people not to leave over their manna, in order to build their faith so they would confidently trust that God would provide a new ration each morning.  After Moshe introduced this rule, God made the miracle of causing leftover manna to spoil in order to support Moshe, so-to-speak, so that his authority would not be undermined by those who insisted on leaving over some of their manna.
            Rav Weisfish suggests explaining several different aspects of this story on the basis of this theory, including the incident that occurred on the first Shabbat after the manna began to fall.  On Shabbat morning, several members of the nation left the camp in search of manna, despite being told that no manna would fall on Shabbat.  God reacted angrily, asking Moshe, “Until when will refuse to obey My commands…” (16:28).  As Rashi notes, Moshe was included in God’s condemnation, despite the fact that he was, quite obviously, not among those who went to look for manna on Shabbat.  Rav Weisfish suggests that Moshe was partially to blame for this incident, because he had decided to introduce the provision forbidding leaving over manna.  If not for this decision, leftover manna would not have spoiled.  And it was thus because of him that some among the nation nervously went looking for manna on Shabbat morning.  Knowing from their experiences during the previous week that leftover manna spoiled, they woke up early Shabbat morning expecting their remaining supply of manna to spoil at any moment.  This fear prompted them to disobey God’s command to go out to look for manna. 
            In turns out, then, that Moshe bore indirect responsibility for this unfortunate incident.  As Rav Weisfish explains, Moshe intended to raise the level of the people’s faith and trust in the Almighty, but not everyone was ready for this jump.  There were those among the nation who could not yet have been expected at this early stage, just several weeks after leaving Egypt, not to leave any manna over until the next morning.  It was unreasonable to demand such a high standard from the entire nation – that everyone should complete all their food rations at the end of the day, leaving nothing for the next day and trusting that God would perform a new miracle in the morning.  By trying to rush Benei Yisrael to an exalted level of faith of which they were as yet incapable, Moshe led some among the nation to violate God’s instructions regarding Shabbat, as they nervously sought food, fearful that their leftover rations would not remain intact.  And for this reason, God held Moshe partially accountable for this violation.