In loving memory of
Yitzchak ben Chaim Zvi Schwartz z"l, who passed away on 13 Shvat 5771
and Sheva Shayndel bat David Schwartz z"l, who passed away 13 Shvat 5778
Dedicated by Avi and Sarah Schwartz
The Torah in Parashat Beshalach tells of the manna with which God miraculously fed Benei Yisrael during their travels in the otherwise uninhabitable wilderness. In informing Moshe of the daily miracle that would occur, with the arrival of bread from the heavens, God told him that the purpose of this miracle was “in order that I may test them, whether they will follow My law, or not” (16:4).
The obvious question arises as to what kind of “test” Benei Yisrael faced by receiving manna each morning. How were they “tested” by being fed miraculous, heavenly food that descended from the sky before they woke up every day?
Rashi explains that this refers to the two commands associated with the manna – that the people should not leave over any manna at night for the next day, and that they should not go searching for manna on Shabbat. The system of the manna “tested” Benei Yisrael’s faith in that they were required to trust that a fresh supply of manna would fall the next morning on weekdays, and that Friday’s supply would remain fresh until Shabbat. According to Rashi, it was through these commands that the manna posed a “test” to Benei Yisrael.
The Maharal of Prague, in Gur Aryeh, notes the difficulty in Rashi’s explanation, as it does not seem to account for God’s reference to the “test” as the purpose of the manna. God told Moshe that he was sending the people manna “lema’an anasenu” – “in order that I may test them,” suggesting that the entire purpose of providing manna was to test the people. According to Rashi’s approach, however, it was not the manna itself, but two particular details, that posed the test.
The Ramban, after citing Rashi’s interpretation and commenting, “It is not correct,” suggests that the manna tested Benei Yisrael in the sense that they had to show their unbridled faith in God. They followed God through the wilderness despite not having any natural means by which to sustain themselves, and being forced to go to sleep each night with absolutely no food with them, trusting that miraculous food would arrive the next morning. This, according to the Ramban, was the “test” of the manna, as Benei Yisrael followed God for forty years trusting that He would provide for them.
We might note, however, that in this verse the test is described as determining whether or not the people would follow God’s laws (“ha-yeileikh be-torati im lo”). This formulation would imply that the test related to obedience and compliance with instructions – as Rashi explained – and not general faith, as the Ramban suggested.
A different possibility is proposed by Chizkuni, who writes that Benei Yisrael’s miraculous sustenance, which obviated the need to invest time and energy into securing a livelihood, “tested” how Benei Yisrael would use their time. Freed from the normal burden of working to feed themselves and their families, Benei Yisrael had the opportunity to devote themselves to study, and this was the “test” of the manna to which God referred when He said the manna would determine whether “ha-yeileikh be-Torati” – whether they would devote themselves to Torah. This approach is also taken by Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar.
An especially creative interpretation is offered by Chatam Sofer, who suggests that the manna tested the people by continuing to arrive even when they did not deserve it. The morning after Benei Yisrael made a golden calf, and prepared to worship it, the manna fell. The morning after the spies returned, and Benei Yisrael announced their plans to return to Egypt instead of proceeding into the land God promised them, the manna fell. The morning of Korach’s revolt, when the people expressed their scorn and contempt for Moshe, the manna fell. According to Chatam Sofer, this was the great test of the manna, and, in a broader sense, this is the test of the kindnesses which God bestows upon us all each and every day. We are the beneficiaries of His grace and compassion at all times, even when we are hardly deserving of His benevolence. God’s kindness thus tests us in the sense that we are to commit ourselves to act and live the right way, even though we do not see immediate consequences when we do not.