SALT - Wednesday, 12 Shevat 5777 - February 8, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of
Miriam Heller z"l
whose yahrzeit falls on the seventh of Shvat,
by her niece, Vivian Singer.
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            We read in Parashat Beshalach of Benei Yisrael’s complaints to Moshe in Midbar Sin over the lack of food, in response to which God announced that He would be sending the people miraculous food from the heavens each morning.  He declared to Moshe, “Hineni mamtir lakhem lechem min ha-shamayim” – “I am hereby sending you down bread from the heavens” (16:4).

            The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 25:5) draws an association between the word “hineni” (“I am hereby”) in this verse and Avraham’s response of “hineni” when he was called by the Almighty.  When God appeared to Avraham to issue the command of the akeida – the offering of his son as a sacrifice – He called Avraham’s name, and Avraham replied, “Hineni” – “I am here” (Bereishit 22:1).  The Midrash tells that God said to Avraham, “I will pay reward to your sons with that same expression.”  The word “hineni” shared by these two contexts suggested to the Midrash that the miracle of the manna somehow came in reward for Avraham’s response of “hineni” when he was summoned by God.  How might we explain this association?

            The answer likely emerges from an earlier passage in the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 25:4), where Chazal observe how God responded favorably to Benei Yisrael’s demand for food despite the inappropriate manner in which they spoke.  The Midrash comments that when Benei Yisrael finished eating the rations of food that they brought with them from Egypt, they should have simply approached Moshe and respectfully informed him that they had no more food.  Instead, they angrily berated him and Aharon, accusing them of bringing the nation out of Egypt to die of starvation in the wilderness (16:3).  God should have reacted with anger, but He instead responded, in the Midrash’s words, “They did what they do, and I shall do what I do.”  He then announced that He would be miraculously sustaining them with heavenly bread each morning.

            We might suggest that this passage should be read in conjunction with the Midrash’s aforementioned comment linking God’s response to the people with Avraham’s response of “hineni.”  As became evident from the rest of the akeida story, Avraham’s response was an expression of unconditional loyalty and fealty to the divine will.  When God called to him, he replied, “Hineni” as if to say, “I am prepared and ready to do anything You command me.”  Indeed, he was then given the most difficult command imaginable, and he unflinchingly obeyed.  The Midrash perhaps draws a comparison between Avraham’s unconditional loyalty to the Almighty and His unconditional loyalty to us, as it were.  Although Benei Yisrael were undeserving of His miraculous sustenance, having expressed remorse over having left Egypt and their preference to live as the Egyptians’ slaves, God did not abandon them.  He would not allow them to perish in the wilderness.  Like a parent who feeds his or her child despite the child’s misconduct, regardless of how rudely and inappropriately the child asks for food, God cared for His nation in the desert even though they were unworthy of His kindness.  Just as Avraham was committed to fulfilling the divine will no matter what was entailed, God expressed His commitment, so-to-speak, to care for His people regardless of whether or not we are deserving of His kindness.

            The practical lesson we might learn from the Midrash’s comments is that we must be prepared to lend assistance to those who need it even if we justifiably feel they do not deserve it.  Sometimes, people in distress do not request the help they need in an appropriate, courteous manner.  And when we are approached for help discourteously, our instinctive reaction is to refuse.  We must remember and emulate the Almighty’s response to Benei Yisrael’s complaints in the wilderness: “They did what they do, and I shall do what I do.”  It is natural for people in dire straits to lose their bearings, and the rest of us should not lose ours.  We must remain committed and loyal to our fellow in distress even if we feel he acts improperly, following the example set by our loving Father who mercifully and compassionately cares for us even when we do not deserve it.