August 7, 2018

The test of the manna (Beshalach)

In Parshat Beshalach we read about the manna – the heavenly bread – which the Bnei Yisrael received as a divine gift six days a week, with a double portion being provided on Friday.

However, while the Manna was a gift, it was not an unconditional gift. Instead, God used the manna to test the people, as the Torah teaches us:

And God said to Moses, ‘I will make bread rain down to you from the heaven. The people will go out and gather enough for each day so that I will test them to see whether or not they will keep My Torah’ (Shemot 16:4).

This is very curious. True, the Torah had not yet been given so perhaps God was testing the people to see if they were worthy to receive the Torah. At the same time, God had already taken the people out of Egypt with great miracles, so it would seem that God had already committed Himself to the prospect of giving the Torah to the people. So what was God actually testing?

There are many answers to this question, but I’d like to share three approaches:

According to Rashi, God was testing the people to see whether they would keep ‘Hilkhot HaMan’ – the laws concerning the manna – such as not leaving any manna over from one day to the other, and not going out on Shabbat to collect the manna. The people had only recently been liberated from slavery and at this point, God was unsure whether they had the necessary discipline to keep the Torah. Consequently, God used the manna as a test whereby if the people proved to Him that they could keep ‘Hilkhot HaMan’, then He would be prepared to given them the Torah.

According to Ramban, God was testing the people to see whether they could maintain their faith in Him since, on any given weekday, they only had enough manna for that day. Having been dependent on their Egyptian masters for so long, God wanted to know whether they could learn to depend on Him. If they could, then He would proceed to give them the Torah and establish an everlasting bond with the Jewish people.

And according to Ohr HaChaim, God was testing the people to see what they did with their spare time since the manna needed no preparation. While they were in Egypt the Jewish people had no leisure time, which meant that they could not actively nurture their relationship with God given their backbreaking workload. But now they were free and, with the gift of the manna, they didn’t need to go and search for food. So God tested the people to see if they used their time effectively to reflect on His ways. If they did, they would pass the test and God would then commit Himself to giving them the Torah.

By giving the people the Torah it seems that our ancestors passed the test. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether we pass these tests in our own lives?

Do we adhere to the laws of the Torah or do we not treat them with the respect they deserve?

Do we live our lives while maintaining our faith and dependence on God or do we think that we are the sole contributors to our success?

And despite the many time-saving devices that we have in our lives, do we use our leisure time to reflect on the ways of God or do we use this ‘extra’ time to busy ourselves with more mundane activities?

Shabbat, which is when we eat the challah representing the double portion of manna provided for our ancestors, is the perfect time to look back to the week that was and ask ourselves whether we’ve passed the test of law, of faith, and of time; and then consider how we can do even better in the coming week!

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