Parshas Eikev: Of Manna and Emunah
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Eikev, Moshe reminds the Bnei Yisrael of the Divine food, the Heavenly manna, that sustained them for their forty year desert wanderings. הַמַּאֲכִלְךָ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ: לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ, וּלְמַעַן נַסֹּתֶךָ לְהֵיטִבְךָ בְּאַחֲרִיתֶךָ - (Do not forget Hashem) Who feeds you manna in the wilderness, which your forefathers knew not, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to do good for you in the end (Devarim 8:16).
In regard to the miracle of manna, Chazal (Taanis 9a) teach:
שלשה פרנסים טובים עמדו לישראל אלו הן משה ואהרן ומרים, וג' מתנות טובות ניתנו על ידם ואלו הן באר וענן ומן באר בזכות מרים עמוד ענן בזכות אהרן מן בזכות משה - Three good sustainers rose up for the Jewish people (in the desert), and they are: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. And three good gifts were given through them, and these are: The well of water, the cloud, and the manna. The well in the merit of Miriam; the cloud in the merit of Aharon; and the manna in the merit of Moshe.
Just as Moshe sustained the people spiritually, teaching them Torah and mitzvos, so too, in his merit they were sustained physically, with the foodstuff of the manna.
Rav Soloveitchik zt’l writes, “The Israelites (in the desert) were free from daily care and worries. They ate their bread, not by the sweat of their brow, but in the knowledge that G-d was with them. There was no need to till, plant, watch and reap. The curse imposed upon Adam was suspended. At times, the glorious event of what we call the transcendental (spiritual) order expresses itself not through a genuine revelation experience or through a confrontation with a transcendental reality - seeing G-d in the midst of the community - but in an illuminated existence. At times, both for the individual and for the community, to live is a great joy: there is no perplexity, dreams come true, aspirations are fulfilled, one feels that life makes sense and is replete with purposefulness.
“But the transcendental experience eventually comes to a stop; it does not continue forever. G-d wills man to live, exist and work in the dimension of the natural and the orderly. The beautiful visions of the Song at the Sea vanish; the light of a transcendental reality is extinguished. What does the Torah tell us right after the manna is introduced (Shemos 16)? וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם - and Amalek came and fought with Israel at Refidim (Shemos 17:8). Man finds himself facing a cynical environment; he is lost, ignorant of both purpose and direction. Events are sometimes unfriendly. Life is full of absurdities and contradictions. He experiences no revelation, no prophecy, no direct contact with G-d” (Chumash Masores HaRav Shemos, p.135).
The manna represents the height of Divine revelation - daily food directly from Heaven. And yet, this realm of existence does not last forever. Every person experiences, in their own lives, moments of revelation and exultation, and moments of darkness and difficulty. Greatness lies in our ability to find the RS”O (Almighty) in our lives when it is dark, just as we can find Him when it is light.
R’ Abraham J. Twerski M.D., writes, “According to tradition, the manna had a magical quality: one could taste in it whatever one desired. There is a magical quality within our means that can affect how we taste our food: that quality is love. One of my favorite stories is that of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov (d.1760, Ukraine) who one Friday night saw a rather simple person whose face radiated with light. ‘What is this man’s secret?’ they asked. ‘Is he so spiritual a person that his face should shine in this manner?’ The Baal Shem Tov replied, ‘Let’s follow him home and see.’
“The man entered a small hut and greeted his wife with a hearty ‘Good Shabbos!’ Peering through the window, the Baal Shem Tov and his students saw a sparsely furnished room that testified to the austere conditions of the household. A wooden table was covered with a plain white cloth, and the two candles shed a warm glow. The man sang Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the angels with a lively refrain, then sang Eishes Chayil. Then he said to his wife, ‘Please bring the special wine.’
“The wife brought two loaves of coarse, dark bread. He washed his hands and recited the proper blessing, then chanted the kiddush. After he ate of the bread, he said, ‘We have never yet had such fine wine! Can you please bring in the fish?’ Moments later the wife served him a small portion of beans. ‘Hmmm!’ he exclaimed, smacking his lips. ‘This fish is unusually delicious.’ He sang a Shabbos song and said, ‘I’m ready for the soup.’ The wife appeared with yet another dish of beans. The man complimented his wife, ‘This soup is simply superb.’ He sang another Shabbos song and asked, ‘Can we have the roast meat and tzimmes?’ Again the wife served him beans. ‘How wonderful the roast and tzimmes are!’ he exclaimed.
“The Baal Shem Tov said to his disciples, ‘Our ancestors in the desert had the manna, a food from heaven, in which they could taste anything they wished. This man’s love for G-d, for Shabbos, and for his wife have enabled him to reach a level of spirituality so lofty that he can taste the finest delicacies in a dish of beans.’
“Is such a level of spirituality attainable? Even if it is not, it is certainly a far cry from complaining that the food was too cold or lacked salt. At the very least, we can certainly send our compliments to the chef and our gratitude to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for that which He has provided” (A Taste of Nostalgia, by R’ A. J. Twerski MD and Judi Dick, Artscroll, p.32-33).
As the adage goes: A Jew takes a cup of scalding water, bitter coffee, sweet sugar and cold milk. He mixes them all together and says: She’hakol ni’hi’yeh bi’dvaro - RS”O, everything in my life - hot, cold, bitter, sweet - it’s all from You!
Let us strive to taste the quality of manna in all that Hashem sends our way; let us appreciate the manna that tested us and sustained us; and let us bless Hashem Who is Good and does good, for all that we experience in our lives.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום