“[Hashem] fed you manna in the desert, which your forefathers didn’t know, in order to afflict and test you… “(Devarim 8:16).
In his ongoing effort to prepare B’nei Yisrael to enter the land of Israel with complete faith in Hashem, Moshe Rabbeinu reminded them how the Almighty had taken care of His people throughout their forty years in the wilderness, providing for their every need – food, clothing, and shelter.
So if the desert experience was so idyllic, why does our pasuk refer to the eating of manna as an affliction and a test?
The Seforno explains that Hashem was testing whether the Jews would follow the Torah even when they didn’t have to worry about their livelihood, even when the manna seemed to fall automatically, regardless of their merits.
We all understand the test of poverty. We’re all aware of the trials and tribulations of being poor. However, says the Seforno, wealth is also a test. When we have everything we need and more, it’s easy to become complacent, to “grow fat and rebellious” (ibid. 32:15). This is the test of the manna, and it is the test for many Jews in these prosperous times.
Effortless affluence is a dangerous thing. So much leisure time and freedom – how can we not misuse it? Having plenty of everything is plenty challenging.
Blessing in Disguise
From this perspective, the struggle to support ourselves is actually a blessing. As the Chovos HaLevavos writes in Sha’ar HaBitachon, preoccupation with earning a living helps us control our yetzer hara. If we had too much time on our hands, we’d succumb to temptation. Even now, when we’re so busy and tired most of the time, it’s a struggle to resist.
Whether we’re hard at work or on easy street, Hashem tests us only for our own good. May we pass with flying colors.
Question for Discussion
Many of us have full schedules, keeping us busy throughout the day. Nonetheless, what’s something you find time for outside of work or school?
“Steve,” living in Jerusalem:
Every Shabbos, rain or shine, a man goes to Misgav LaDach, a really depressing hospice in Jerusalem, and makes Kiddush for everyone. He even brings his kids. He goes from floor to 12 floor, making Kiddush for each group of patients he rounds up. These Jews – some very observant – would otherwise go without Kiddush or any other semblance of Shabbos.
“Avraham,” a resident of Jerusalem’s Rechaviah neighborhood:
Shmuel, a construction project manager in Rechaviah, volunteers his services on behalf of non-profits. He managed the rebuilding of the Netzach Yisrael shul, for instance. Its backers needed help and professionalism, and he spent endless time on the project. He did the same for the mikveh on HaAri Street, which required a lot of sophistication. Numerous halachic issues came up, and he brought in the proper people and expertise to make sure the mikveh was built to perfection. In fact, he put aside his paying jobs to focus on these efforts, because he considers the community’s need for high-quality shuls and mikva’os much more important.
My father, an orthodontist, has taught many boys their bar mitzvah parshah for free. That’s a huge time commitment every week. He taught his own children too, and he even tutors his grandchildren in Chicago and Boston over Skype.