May 21, 2024
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Uncomfortable Memories

Recalling moments of discomfort and hunger in a motivational speech seems out of place. Yet, sefer Devarim (8:1-4) records Moshe Rabbeinu sharing memories of how Hashem made us uncomfortable and hungry before giving us the manna.

We wonder why Hashem did this to us and why Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us of this difficult episode in a speech intended to motivate us to embrace Hashem’s Torah and its mission. Recalling these unpleasant moments seem highly demotivating!

 

Which Delay? Ibn Ezra and Rashbam

First, let us determine which specific incident Moshe Rabbeinu is referring to. The Ibn Ezra explains that it refers to the not-so-smooth transition from matza to manna. The matza we took from Mitzrayim lasted about a month. When the matza ran out, Hashem did not immediately replace it with manna. Moshe Rabbeinu—the Ibn Ezra believes—refers to our discomfort and hunger during this delay.

According to the Rashbam, Moshe Rabbeinu refers to the 40 years of sleeping without food reserves in our homes. The absence of food security made us uncomfortable.

The human need for food security is keen. I grew up next door to Holocaust survivors, and I discovered that my beloved neighbors stored large quantities of non-perishable food in their basement. I later learned that this is common behavior for survivors of the Shoah. There is a deep psychological need to know from where our next meals will come (especially for those deprived of food in their past).

 

The Benefits of the Initial Delay

Both the initial and then the 40-year ongoing delays benefitted us. Hashem acted in our best interest to make us wait for the manna, after our matza was depleted. Psychologists have discovered that a central characteristic of long-term success is the ability to delay gratification.

Wikipedia describes the famous “Stanford marshmallow experiment” as follows: “The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification in 1972 led by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University. In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small but immediate reward, or two small rewards, if they waited for a period of time. During this time, the researcher left the child in a room with a single marshmallow for about 15 minutes and then returned. If they did not eat the marshmallow, the reward was either another marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on the child’s preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI) and other life measures.”

The beginning of parshat Toledot vividly depicts Eisav’s inability to delay gratification. He preferred a bowl of soup today over the birthright whose benefit would ensue much later. According to Rashi, the Cheit HaEgel occurred due to our lack of patience to wait a few more hours for Moshe Rabbeinu’s return. Failure ensues from an inability to delay and postpone.

Waiting is an acute problem in contemporary society. We have become accustomed to lightning-fast food preparation, travel and communication and are very impatient when we do not receive needed services quickly. I have heard Rav Dr. Abraham Twerski—a noted expert on addiction and recovery—say that astronomic growth in addictions stems greatly from people’s inability to wait.

Thus, while some may moan that the waiting is the hardest part, it is an essential component of a functional and successful personality. Therefore, Hashem’s delay in providing manna was a great blessing, since it taught us how to wait. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu appropriately recalls Hashem’s wisdom in making us uncomfortable and hungry between the matza and the manna.

 

The Benefit of the Ongoing Delay

The Gemara (Yoma 76a) describes the benefit of the 40-year daily wait for the manna (translation from the William Davidson edition of the Talmud): “The students of Rabbi Shimon ben Yocḥai asked him: ‘Why didn’t the manna fall for the Jewish people just once a year to take care of all their needs, instead of coming down every day?’ He said to them: ‘I will give you a parable: To what does this matter compare? To a king of flesh and blood who has only one son. He granted him an allowance for food once a year and the son greeted his father only once a year, when it was time for him to receive his allowance. So, he arose and granted him his food every day, and his son visited him every day.’”

So too, in the case of the Jewish people, someone who had four or five children would be worried and say: Perhaps, the manna will not fall tomorrow and we will all die of starvation. Consequently, everyone directed their hearts to their Father-in-Heaven every day.

Waiting is an integral and recurring component of Torah life. We wait until we are permitted to eat milk after meat, the end of a “three-day Yom Tov” and we are smart enough to be patient until marriage.

During an age of plenty, when many have more than enough food and large amounts of money in reserve, it is especially important to imagine the manna experience. Hashem gave us food daily in the midbar to build our bitachon in Him. Therefore, imagining living the manna experience enhances bitachon, even if we are financially blessed.

 

Conclusion:
The Ongoing Manna Nisayon

The fact that Moshe Rabbeinu includes the manna in sefer Devarim is surprising. As noted, sefer Devarim prepares us for life in Eretz Yisrael, where we would not be consuming the manna. Apparently, although eating the manna is in the past, the memory of the manna continues for generations.

Moshe Rabbeinu (Devarim 8:2) mentions that the manna is a nisayon, a test. I suggest that the test is ongoing (perhaps, explaining its mention in sefer Devarim). Part of the continuous test is whether we derive the necessary lessons from the manna. Imagination is crucial to passing this test. I recommend regularly imagining the manna experience and feeling. Sitting in the sukkah is an especially auspicious time to do this. Vicariously tasting life with the manna helps us internalize the crucial lessons of delayed gratification and bitachon in Hashem. May we all merit doing so!

 

Two Additional Eternal Manna Nisyonot

We suggest a new approach based on Rav Yehudah Halevi’s celebrated argument in the first section of the Kuzari. As is well-known, the Kuzari proves the authenticity of our unparalleled claim of being descendants of the (approximately) three million individuals who witnessed the divine revelation at Mount Sinai. He bolsters this proof by noting that the entire nation witnessed the manna miracle every day—except for Shabbat—for 40 years.

Sefer Devarim (29:3-5) states that our eyes became completely opened to the undeniable truth of Hashem and the Torah only after having experienced the daily arrival of manna for 40 years. An avowed skeptic could imagine that Moshe Rabbeinu, somehow, managed to fool our ancestors at Sinai by staging a false revelation experience. However, no reasonable individual could argue that Moshe Rabbeinu could produce the presentation of magic food for an entire nation, in a barren desert—for over 40 years daily—and in many different locations.

Thus, the manna is—in the words of the Kuzari (1:86)—“evidence of the truth of the Torah that cannot be denied.” Accordingly, one may interpret the manna as a test to Jews of all generations “whether we shall observe the Torah.” The manna was not only a test for the age that received it, but remained a relevant trial for all generations. We pass this test when we recognize the magnitude of the miracle of the manna and allow it to compel us to live a life of Torah observance, fully convinced of its truth.

A second eternal nisayon stems from another facet of remembering the manna. As newcomers to shemirat Shabbat, we initially feared for our sustenance when the manna did not fall on Shabbat. Hashem sending lechem mishna reassured us that He sustains shomrei Shabbat. Our commemoration of the lechem mishna at our Shabbat meals bolsters our bitachon that Hashem continues to support our shemirat Shabbat (as we sing as part of the poem, “Ki eshemera Shabbat, kacha b’chol shishi yachil mezoni”). Our nisayon, accordingly, is whether we draw inspiration from the lechem mishna that Hashem sustains our Shabbat observance.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the beth din of Elizabeth. His 16 books, including a brand new one on Sefer Devarim, are available on Amazon.

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