One of the main subjects of Parshas Eikev
is the man
-- the manna that the Jewish people ate during their travels through the desert. Now as everyone knows, the manna was very, very different from any other food that Israelites had ever had before. The manna was known as lechem min hashamayim
-- bread from heaven. As a matter of fact, when they ate the manna, the blessing they made was ...hamotzi lechem min hashamayim,
not ...hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz!
What were the special qualities of the manna, and what practical lesson do we learn from it? Nothing in the Torah is told merely for the sake of an interesting story -- it has to give us instruction in avodah, in the service of HaShem.
First, the Rebbe explains, the manna was given to us only during a very short period of Jewish history -- only for the forty years that the Jews lived in the desert did they have the manna. HaShem gave it to them as a preparation for the real world. As long as they were in Egypt they weren't really serving HaShem to their full capacity. They were slaves to Pharaoh, and so they could not be full servants to HaShem. During the forty years in the desert they also did not live in the real world. They didn't have to work for a living. They didn't have to contend with the problems that most normal people do.
We, as women, as housewives, as homemakers -- what do we do all day? We maintain our houses. We're cooking or cleaning, we're shopping, we're washing, we're doing all those things to keep and nurture our families. But in the desert all of those things were unnecessary. They didn't have to shop because they got the manna; they didn't have to buy clothing, because their clothes grew with them, and did not wear out; nor did they need to be washed, because the clouds which surrounded them washed and ironed their clothes, as our Sages tell us. Can you imagine? Gan Eden! They didn't have to throw out the garbage, because the manna produced no waste. Here your garbage fills up with all the wrappers and bags and bones and peels, but they didn't have that. The manna was 100% edible with no leftovers or waste. There were no bathrooms to clean. For the forty years in the desert the Jews did not have to eliminate. It sounds very strange, but the reason people need to use the bathroom is because every food, no matter how nutritious and how delicious it may be, has some waste in it. And when you drink water, you can't just drink exactly how much you need, and the body needs a certain amount of fluid to help remove the waste. However, since the manna was a perfect food, unknown to science, all it had in it was the necessary nutrients and nothing additional. Everything was absorbed by the body and there was no waste. And the water that they drank from Miriam's well was also perfect. Everything was just exactly as much as was needed.
The Rebbe explains that the period in the desert, this forty-year period, was a preparation for Eretz Yisrael. HaShem knew that the existence that they were going to lead in Israel was so unlike what they knew in Egypt or in the desert, that they needed preparation. But how was the situation in the desert and eating the manna a preparation for Eretz Yisrael? The Rebbe explains that the manna was a learning experience, a lesson. What is there about the manna that can teach a person about the real world, about life?
In order to understand this we first have to understand some of the unique qualities of manna. The first feature of manna is that it could produce all tastes (except those tastes that would be detrimental to nursing mothers).
Another feature of the manna was that it kept for only one day. You could never have a stock of it in your pantry. You received only a certain measure every day, just enough for each person. Every single day (except Shabbos) you had to go and gather it in.
Another unique feature of manna -- it fell like rain. It came down from heaven and every morning they found it lying on the ground. As it fell, precious jewels fell together with it, so that when the Yidden woke up in the morning, there wasn't just manna but also diamonds and rubies and pearls. Usually to attain precious gems you have to mine them or go down to the bottom of the sea, and so on. Just to be able to pick them up and put them into your pocket, was as miraculous as getting the manna.
Life in the desert seems to have been easy. However, G-d Himself declares that his intention with the manna was to test us. When you want to know what a person's true capacities are, you have to put him through his paces. If a person has an easy life you never know what his true strengths are. As we often see, it's only in a crisis period that a person reveals their true inner resources. When everything is just everyday, regular, you don't have to show your true strength. But when you're pushed to the limit or you're given a difficult task, then you can show what you really have within you. And this is a good way of preparing a person for difficult times, by giving them a test. We see this in the army. When you put a soldier into basic training, they don't just give lectures all day, video, audio-visual, theory. When the enemy comes, you have to pick up a gun and fight. For this, a soldier requires preparation. They test them. They make them walk and they make them carry heavy packs and they make them go hungry and thirsty. Their officers put them through difficult situations to teach them what to do, and to see if they can really do it. Testing is a way of preparing a person for the main challenges which he will face, and it's also a way of detecting whether the person is capable or not of facing that challenge. Likewise, the manna was a way of testing the Jewish people's faith in HaShem
in two different directions.
Sometimes people look at difficulties in life as a punishment. According to Chassidus, when a person has to face tests and challenges in life, this is not because he deserves punishment. Rather, he has to face challenges in order to raise him up to a higher level. HaShem would like him to bring out his emunah -- his faith and trust in G-d, or his ahavas Yisrael, his love for a fellow Jew, or for the Torah. Let's say you have to contend with a very, very unpleasant person. You say, perhaps, "Why did HaShem make me the daughter-in-law of this woman who is so difficult to deal with?" You keep saying to yourself, "My friend has such a nice mother-in-law; how come I got her?"
The answer is that perhaps HaShem wanted... not perhaps. HaShem definitely wanted you to work on a certain trait and you would never know how to work on it if you didn't have practice. So this difficult person that you have to deal with is a way of bringing out or working or strengthening those middos that might be weak in you, but not in your friend. That's why she doesn't have that test. This is not, G-d forbid, a punishment.
Tests, or nisyonos, can generally be classified into two groups. There are nisyonos of poverty, whether material or spiritual, and there are nisyonos of wealth, whether material or spiritual. In the simplest sense, when a person lacks something in life, whether it's a lack of money or a lack of personality traits that we would like to have, or lack of husband or lack of parents, or any lack, anything that we think we should have, or want to have and we don't have, that is called a nisayon of poverty. When a person has wealth, more than other people are endowed with, such as intellectual wealth, good looks, outstanding qualities of some sort, or simply a lot of money -- this is a test of wealth.
Each kind of test is given to a person to develop a different kind of middah that is vital for true service of HaShem.
A person could spend his whole life being very discouraged, depressed and angry over his lot in life, and it will lead him nowhere. However, a Jew who is filled with Torah will learn to deal with his situation.
One must realize that if HaShem placed him in a particular situation, this is for a reason. It is something that is clearly necessary for him, and it is certainly for his benefit. There is a story about a man who had a terrible wife. Later on, he found out that in a previous incarnation he was guilty of a sin that carried the death sentence. However, instead of administering the death sentence, the Heavenly Court decided that he would have a wife who would regularly shame him in public. Each time this happened, it removed part of the death sentence. We don't always realize that when we experience some negative situation, it is part of the account from the past or the present. I once read an article that was written by a famous dancer in the New York City Ballet. She described the painful exercises that she had to go through to keep fit for performing on stage. She described it as actual physical pain. When you read it you say, Ribono shel Olam, who would want to be a dancer? It is such a terrible life. But there were plenty of rewards and that's why she did it.
Similarly (lehavdil), when a Jew is imbued with faith in HaShem, he knows that sometimes he has to pay a price for other good things in life. Every painful experience for the body is a tikkun (rectification) for the soul. Suffering cleanses. Of course, this does not mean that one should look for suffering, G-d forbid. But if this happens by Divine Providence, then one must accept suffering with love, knowing that it is for the person's own good. Acceptance is the first thing that the test of poverty is supposed to bring out. To accept it and not say it was a mistake, I don't deserve it, this is bad. To say, "HaShem understands why it happened. He knows that it was addressed to me, it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't meant for someone else. If I got it, it's my package, and that it truly is for the good, whether I understand it or not." If anybody here in this room has gone through a difficult time, and I think every one of us has, in different ways, you will know that it isn't easy to say these words and truly internalize them and believe them. For some people it can be a lifetime task learning to accept with love what HaShem gives us. But you don't learn that unless you have this test. If you never had a hard day in your life how are you going to learn to accept difficulties? So HaShem gives one person an illness, another one has a child who has a problem, another one is not pretty, or whatever.
Now what is the test of wealth? What could be the teaching or the lesson if you have more than other people? You are wealthy, your husband is nice, your family is lovely. Everything is just great. You have an excellent job, and you like the work... In brief, you have everything. What kind of test is that?
When a person has it all, he is liable to say, "Well, of course. I deserve it. Look how pious I am, look how wonderful I am. I'm such a good Jew. Of course I deserve all that I have. I should really get even more than I have, but I won't complain!" In other words, "My strength and my greatness gave me this wealth."
This is a terrible, terrible test. We see it every single day -- people that do well financially seem to carry themselves with their noses a little higher than other people, "because obviously, if I'm rich, I must be better than those who are not. I must be doing something right to find favor in HaShem's eyes. So everybody else should give me respect as well."
A variation on the theme: "Because I am smart and I am really the top in my field, I got the best job, and therefore I have the best salary. It follows that everybody had better respect me." The same attitude is bred in women who are very attractive, so that whenever they walk into a room everybody's eyes turn their way. Or the guy with the muscles, the football star. Most of these people become very arrogant, and everybody idolizes them. For what? For something which is a G-dly gift, and should be treated as such, whether it's the looks or the muscles or the talents or the good voice! So the test of wealth is whether a person attributes these things to HaShem, or not; whether they will increase your humility, or the opposite.
When a person has been blessed with unusual wealth, this means that HaShem is making him a vehicle to give charity. That's all. It doesn't mean you have to have solid gold faucets and the most expensive Chinese carpets.
There are fabulously wealthy people who regard their wealth as a mission in life. They support institutions, they help people, and so on. Not like Howard Hughes -- the more he had the more he hoarded. Who ever benefited from it? Not even he himself!
How does this all relate to the manna, one of the main subjects of this week's parshah? The Rebbe explains that the manna included both tests, the test of wealth and the test of poverty. It had the test of wealth in the fact that it could taste like anything you wished. It was like no other food anybody ever had. You could eat the manna and it had everything in it. The manna also brought with it physical wealth. The Midrash relates that precious gems fell with it. In addition, there was no waste in it. It was something that was perfect. No one had ever eaten a perfect food before.
However, at the same time that the manna had these unusual Divine properties, it also put the Jews to the test of poverty in several ways: It could not be stored. You know how good we all feel when the freezer is full of food, the pantry is stocked and we don't have to shop for another two days, so that if guests come, we can pull a whole sumptuous meal out of the freezer? We know we have it. If you had to go every single day to the grocery and only buy one day's food, you're always worried: What happens if there's a strike tomorrow and the store doesn't open? In Israel anything can happen. Or what happens if guests come in tomorrow morning before I go to the store. You always feel nervous. I only have one day's worth and tomorrow morning I won't have anything. When I start the day I am zero. The "problem" with the manna was that no one could point to it and say, "This is mine." A person feels satisfied when he knows that he has more than his immediate needs. But with the manna, one had to go out and gather it daily. People lived hand to mouth. Every day they were starting out from zero, with an empty pantry.
Furthermore, even though the manna was lechem min hashamayim -- bread from Heaven -- and could taste just like your favorite recipe of roast chicken, it nevertheless didn't look like roast chicken. The Rebbe explains that psychologically, a feeling of satisfaction has a lot to do with your eyes. That's why it is said that blind people do not feel satisfied from eating as much as people who see. If you go to a wedding, and you look at the smorgasbord, you'll see 16 different kinds of salads. Just looking at it, you feel satisfied, especially since you know that the main course is yet to come. So you eat the first course, but you know there's still soup and the main course, and dessert and coffee and cake. Mentally, you're already satisfied. However, if you're blind and you eat one bite and you don't know that there's another 75 bites coming, you say, I'm still hungry. So take another bite. But I'm still hungry. Don't worry, there's a whole big plate. But you don't see that plate. And if you cannot see it in front of you and you don't see all that amount that you're soon going to eat, psychologically you're just not as satisfied. The manna too, was not impressive to look at. It didn't please the eye as normal food does. This was a test of poverty.
The Rebbe goes on to say that during their years in the desert, these two opposite tests were to teach the people how to relate to both situations, wealth and poverty.
Now, just as there are certain characteristics of physical food, so too, with spiritual food. Now what is spiritual food in this context? It is seichel
-- intellect, knowledge. Why is knowledge compared to food? Because when a person eats he takes something that is outside of him and makes it part of his own body. After a while the food is assimilated and becomes one with him. The same things applies to knowledge. If you have never studied geography it is comparable to something outside of you. But if you take a course and you learn it, it becomes part of you, part of your knowledge. You now know geography.
Just as there were two kinds of food -- bread from the earth, and bread from Heaven (manna) -- so too, in terms of knowledge: There is bread from the earth, which is secular knowledge; and there is bread from Heaven -- G-dly knowledge, Torah. What is the difference between the two? We said that physical food, like bread, is something that has its limitations, but when you eat it you're satisfied. So it is with secular knowledge. When a person goes to college or takes a course to learn a certain secular subject, when he learns it he feels satisfied; he has achieved something. He studied this subject and now he knows it. Let's say you went to college, you read a lot of books, you took a lot of tests, and now you've got your B.A. in literature. You went for another few years, you got your M.A. Now you can say, "I am a Master of Literature, a Doctor of Science, a Professor of Medicine; I know it all." You naturally feel satisfaction. Look at all the degrees and diplomas on the wall. "My son the doctor, my son the lawyer."
The Torah, however, is Divine knowledge, which is unlimited. Did you ever hear anybody say, "I learned Torah, I already finished. I spent 15 years, I learned Gemara, I am a Master of Gemara, I know it all. I am the world's expert." Did you ever hear anybody say this? You can learn Gemara for 200 years and you still can't say that you know it all.
Divine knowledge is unlimited. It's like manna. It has every taste in it. You know when you were at school, there were certain subjects that you loved and certain subjects that you hated. Some people hate math, some people hate music. But Torah is like manna. It has every kind of taste in it. Those who are technical go for Gemara. Those who are poetic go more for Tehillim, perhaps. Those who are mystical are attracted by Kabbalah and Chassidus, and so on. Torah is so varied, it has everything. There's Chumash and Rashi, there's Mishnayos and Gemara, there's Rambam and Ramban and Kli Yakar, and there's Chassidus. You name it, it is there. There is no person who can't find something he likes in Torah, something that suits his personality. Some people like the stories, they learn Midrash, or Ein Yaakov. There is something for everybody, for a child, an adult, and a talmid chacham. Everybody can find one flavor he likes among all the different varieties. It's more than Howard Johnson's. Every flavor to please your palate. Everyone can find something in Torah that will agree with his personality.
However, you can never say, "I have a degree. I know it all. I am the master of Torah. I've learned it and I know it." Because the more Torah you learn the more you realize how little you know. When you're five years old, you come home -- "Tatty, I learned three pesukim this week. I know three pesukim, I'm so proud." Then, twenty years later, he learns the Rebbe's sichah and he realizes that he didn't understand the verses at all. When he was five years old he thought he knew them perfectly, he could recite them backwards and forwards. But the more you learn, the more you realize how much you do not know, especially when you learn Chassidus. That's probably why Yeshivos don't have any graduation ceremony -- because you never graduate. Accordingly, you never feel really satisfied and content, so that you can say, "I'm finished." You're never finished learning Torah. This is why Torah is called manna -- bread from Heaven.
Now the Rebbe goes one step further and with this he concludes. He says that even though there is secular learning and Torah learning, we see the contrast between the two, so in Torah itself there is this division also. In Torah itself, we can subdivide Torah into the revealed part of Torah and the hidden part of Torah, called Chassidus. Chassidus is the heavenly aspect, and the revealed parts of Torah, such as Gemara, Chumash and Shulchan Aruch are the earthly aspect. Here too, the same idea applies. One can become satiated with the revealed aspects of Torah, but not with Chassidus.
They tell the story about a person that wanted a donation so he came to a rich man's house. The rich man said, "It's winter; come in and close the door; it's freezing outside; and we'll talk about it." But the poor man said, "No. I want you to come outside, and we'll talk about it. I want you to be in the cold for a few minutes. Maybe if you feel the cold, you'll give me a bigger donation." When you're feeling kind of complacent, you're full, you're warm, you don't feel somebody else's pain. You feel kind of arrogant. But taste the hunger and then you'll be a bit humbler.
Our challenge is to deal with both situations -- poverty and wealth. May we merit the rebuilding of the Third Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days, and then we will be free to study all day long.