There is a puzzling verse in our parsha (Eikev) that demands explanation: “He humbled you and caused you to go hungry; He fed you the manna with which you were unfamiliar…” (Deut 8:3).  The Jews had nothing else to eat in any case while in the desert, so why did God “humble” them while causing them to eat the mahn?  It is not the way of God to approach us in tyranny, so what was the point of “humbling” the Jews before granting them their food?

It is well known that the goal of a Jew in this world is to create a “dwelling place” for God in the physical realm – the world in which we live.  In the process of doing so, God presents us with tests, in order to determine if we will really lead a life of Torah and mitzvoth while down here on this earth, and in so doing create a dwelling place for Him.  The tests can come in two general varieties: They are either tests of wealth, or tests of poverty.  And since their time in the desert was preparation for their ultimate entry to the land of Israel, it is safe to assume that the Jews underwent both kinds of tests in the desert as well, even before entering Israel.

First of all, there was the test of wealth.  The mahn came from an infinite spiritual source, so it brought in its wake the potential for infinite physical riches in addition to to its spiritual qualities.  In fact, we are told that the mahn contained not only food, but also precious stones that made the Jews wealthy.  Moreover on a spiritual plane, the mahn was not restricted to one or two tastes; the mahn took on the taste of whatever food the Jew wanted to taste, and in this sense as well, it was unlimited.  So, we see here the test of wealthy – the Jews had to maintain the perspective that it wasn’t their own “power and talent” that led to this wealth – it was entirely granted from Above.

However, the mahn also had a poverty-stricken side.  It left the Jews feeling unsatiated, unsatisfied with their meal.  The Talmud offers two explanations for this; 1) “One who has bread in his basket is not comparable to one who has no bread in his basket” – since the mahn descended in regulated fashion and was only available on the day that it descended, the Jews could not save mahn from one day to the next.  In this important sense, the mahn left the Jews feeling impoverished, because one who has no savings does not feel wealthy.

The Talmud offers a second explanation; “One who can see what he is eating is not comparable to one who cannot see…”  Even though the mahn took on the flavor and texture of whatever food the Jews craved at that time, nevertheless, it never “looked” like that food – it always looked like the flat “bread” that was mahn.  And that left the Jews unsatiated.

How do two such tests make an appearance in one object?  The answer is that since the mahn descended from a spiritual source, it was essentially infinite.  This is what explains the test of wealth that was contained in the mahn.  However, man’s eyes and senses are not attuned to the infinite.  We are attuned to whatever has physical qualities – size, color, texture, etc.  And when we cannot grasp these physical qualities, even though we may sense their spiritual presence, the result is that we feel impoverished.  We feel that something is present, but not “for us.”  We feel there is something infinite and we want it – and yet we cannot reach it.  This is the test of poverty, and it as well was present in the mahn.  Even when impoverished, it is incumbent upon us to “follow the rules” – to lead lives of Torah and mitzvoth even when we do not have “enough” to maintain ourselves physically.

Ultimately, the meaning of our verse – “He humbled you…He fed you the mahn” – is to tell us that life is full of tests.  Whether the test of wealth or that of poverty, the point is continue leading a life of mitzvoth and avodat Hashem in order to create a “dwelling place” in the lower worlds.

For a more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol 4, Page 1098-1100



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