Like Manna from Heaven
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In this week’s Torah portion of B’shalach, we read about one of the first
difficulties complained of by the nation of Israel during their sojourn in
“And the whole assembly of the children of Israel complained against Moshe
and Aharon in the wilderness; and the children of Israel said to them, ‘If
only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt, when we sat
by the pot of meat, and when we ate bread to satisfaction; for you have
taken us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with
hunger.’ And Hashem said to Moshe ‘Behold, I will rain down for you bread
from heaven; and the people will go out and gather a portion every day, so
that I can test them, whether they follow my Torah, or not.’ (Shmos 16:2-
The nation of Israel needed sustenance. They complained to their leaders.
Hashem told Moshe that the people would be provided with sustenance – and
they were provided with the miraculous “man” (manna).
This episode is recounted in Devorim (8:3). We find that Moshe, shortly
before he passed away, told the nation of Israel “And He afflicted you,
and let you hunger, and fed you the manna, which you did not know, nor did
your fathers know; so that he will make you know that man does not live by
bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the
Hashem does man live.”
Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon, P’ Ekev) explained how man lives by
the words that come forth from the mouth of Hashem. He quotes the Vilna
Gaon’s explanation (in Aderes Eliyahu) on the portion of the recounting of
the creation of the world where the verses state (Bereshis 1: 29-30) “And
Hashem said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed that is
upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, that has fruit that yields
seed; it shall be to you for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to
every bird of the sky, and to everything that moves on the earth, which
within there is life, I have given every green herb for food;’ and it was
so.” The Vilna Gaon notes that this utterance, whereby G-d says He has
provided vegetation for food, is itself an expression of creation.
Although G-d had already created the vegetation, it did not yet possess
the ability to sustain man. G-d, in this pronouncement, endowed fruits and
vegetables with the power to provide man with the nutrients needed for him
to survive. He enabled them to sustain and satisfy the hunger of man. The
provision of this special power to the fruits and vegetables warranted its
It was this pronouncement, Rav Kotler says, to which Moshe referred when
he stated that man lives by G-d’s words. Hashem gave the power to sustain
life to bread. Hashem gave the power to sustain life to manna as well.
Just as the power of manna, a substance that existed only during one
period in the history of mankind, stemmed clearly from an act of G-d, the
power of bread, of fruits and vegetables, is the same.
What is curious, Rav Kotler notes, is that Moshe said that G-d had
to “afflict the nation and let them hunger” so that they would know
that “man does not live by bread alone.” The provision of manna was
miraculous. It came portion controlled, lasted only a day except for that
provided on Friday for Shabbos, could change taste, came encased in dew,
and produced no bodily waste. One would think that the mere provision of
such an amazing, miraculous substance would be enough to alert a person
that his sustenance was provided by G-d. Yet, Moshe said the nation had to
hunger before the manna came so that they would acknowledge G-d.
Rav Kotler uses a parable provided by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai to explain.
The Talmud says (Yoma 76a) “Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was asked by his
students: Why didn’t the manna come down to Israel once annually? He
replied: I will give a parable: This can be compared to a king of flesh
and blood who had one son, whom he provided with his nourishment once a
year, and he would visit his father only once a year. Thereupon, he
provided for his nourishment every day, so that he visited him every day.
The same with Israel. . .”
Rav Shimon bar Yochai explained that, notwithstanding the miraculous
nature of manna, if it had been provided only once annually, people would
not appreciate that their sustenance came from G-d. G-d had to provide it
daily so people would need to rely on Him, and recognize that they were
dependant on Him for their survival. So too, Rav Kotler writes, the people
needed to physically experience hunger, and therefore a need for
salvation, before the miraculous intervention could occur. If the people
had received manna before they absolutely needed it, they would not have
fully appreciated the fact that “man does not live on bread alone.” Man,
a physical creature, needs physical and mental stimuli to bring it to
certain realizations. Man needs the assistance of tangible motivational
tools to recognize the full extent of certain truths. The people needed to
first experience the feelings of hunger before they were able to
appreciate the totality of the gift of manna. They needed to experience
the anxiety of not knowing where the next day’s food was coming from to
fully appreciate G-d’s role in providing sustenance.
On Tu B’Shvat, we acknowledge the start of the new year for trees. It is
an appropriate time in the midst of the dry “holiday-free” spell between
Sukkos and Pesach to acknowledge the good that G-d gives us. It is an
occasion to specifically appreciate the gift of fruit. It is an occasion
to more generally appreciate G-d’s gift of sustenance. We need to
recognize that the fact that fruits provide sustenance is itself
miraculous – as miraculous as manna. We need to recognize that it is G-d
who gave us this gift that keeps on giving. Keeping these facts in
perspective is not easy, as illustrated. The Magen Avraham (on Orech
Chayim 131) writes that there is a custom “to increase consumption of
different types of fruits on this day.” By eating fruits in recognition of
this special day, one can provide himself with the tools needed to
acknowledge G-d’s vital place in our everyday lives.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.