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Manna - Blessing or Affliction?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Manna that provided the Jewish people with sustenance in the desert is generally viewed as a blessing. This view is supported by the Torah’s description of the Manna as having the appearance of beautiful crystal in chapter 11 of the book of numbers. Additionally the thought of having all ones financial needs taken care of and not having to work for a living, is a rather attractive one for most of us mere mortals. Retiring with all ones needs met at a young age can certainly be categorized as a high western ideal. Having the leisure to contemplate spiritual, philosophical and political ideals as would have been the case for the generation of the desert was indeed a unique blessing.

The problem is that the description of the Manna in this weeks Torah portion implies that the Manna was both a cause of suffering and some kind of test for the Jewish people. The Torah states ‘Who fed you with manna in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to benefit you in your end.’ The blessing of the Manna is understood, but what is the affliction and the test involved with the Manna? We will present two valuable interpretations that are connected, and shed light on the generational message of the Manna.

Rashi’s grandson, Rabbi Shmuel Ben Meir (known by the acronym Rashbam), suggests that the Manna was an affliction upon the nation because it removed their sense of security. The Manna that fell would only last for that day and storage was impossible. In the terminology of the sages they lost the security of having ‘bread in the sack.’ The modern form of this sense of security would be ‘money in the bank’ or perhaps an insurance policy of sorts. They were robbed of this sense of security and were left feeling naked and vulnerable.

In fact Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that the Hebrew term ‘Anotcha’ stems from the Hebrew word ‘Ani’ or poor person. He suggests that they were robbed of their sense of wealth and were left feeling vulnerable. The test was how to respond to this sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Would they rebel (as was the case on occasion) and demand a ‘normal’ life where human beings alone could control and secure their own destinies and wellbeing or would they resolve their vulnerability by trusting in God to continue providing day in and day out.

I would suggest that in many ways we live in a generation of Manna. We have more than most of our ancestors had, we have running water, comforts and food to eat. Yes, we are generally in the western world a generation of plenty. And yes, we are perhaps more worried, anxious and depressed than ever before. The test of the Manna is alive and well in our times. Will we accept the challenge of being sheep in God’s herd and trusting in Hashem to provide what he deems appropriate for us?

Friends, I unfortunately cannot say that I can answer this question in the affirmative. If I could, I would have worry far less than I do. If I could, I would be more accepting of things I cannot control and submit as a sheep to the direction of God, our Shepherd. If I could I would be more patient, less angry and more accepting. I would be a happier person, a better husband, father and friend.

As we read the Torah’s description of the Manna we are reminded that there is a joyous tool at our disposal – the ability to trust and be Shepherded by God himself, the ability to lead happier, more fulfilled lives and really enjoy the Manna in our lives as a true blessing.