In the Book of Shemos we read how the children of Israel were hungry and complained to Moshe, who brought their complaints before G-d. G-d had the heavens rain down manna from the sky, which should have impressed the young Jewish nation.
But the manna seemed to bring only trouble. The Jews went out to collect it on Shabbos when they were told explicitly not to; they took more than their share and it rotted; they complained that they were bored of it and asked for meat.
Questions abound. Why did the Jewish people have to complain for food before G-d provided it for them? Why did they disregard instructions on how to deal with it? Why were they not grateful for it? Why did they beg for meat?
The text offers no interpretations of these events as they unfold. Only forty years later, in Moshe's final message to the Jewish people, does he offer some insight into this strange bread.
"[G-d] made it difficult for you and made you go hungry; then he fed you the manna which you did not know of and your fathers did not know of, in order to show you that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that comes from G-d's mouth."
The purpose of the manna was not mere physical sustenance. It was provided--after a waiting period--as a builder of character, to see if the children of Israel had it in them to rely only on G-d. In this area they struggled.
Still, why does Moshe wait forty years to reveal the manna's deeper implications? Because the Jewish people would not have understood these implications without experiencing them.
Manna, Moshe tells the children of Israel, was a substance for which "you could find no parallel in your own past experience, nor in that of your forefathers," writes Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Without a frame of reference, the Jewish people could not have appreciated G-d's message. The interpretation of the manna could come only after its entire sequence was played out, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness with only G-d to protect them and provide for them.
Many of us have the tendency of attempting to predict the aftermath of an event immediately after it happens. As soon as Binyamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister of Israel, the reactions poured in. His supporters were quick to rejoice the victory of the settlers and the religious parties, while his detractors were just as quick to mourn the end of the peace process and announce that the tyranny of the religious would widen the rift within the Jewish world.
Whether any of these prophetic pronouncements will come to pass remains to be seen. But if history has taught us anything, it is that they will be minimally true at best.
Once we understand and accept that only time will confirm an interpretation with which we wish to color an event, is there anything we can say with certainty?
Only the conclusion that Moshe reached after explaining the manna: "Remember the L-rd your G-d, for He is the One who gives you strength."
Rabbi Tobias Roth
Rabbi Roth is Rabbi of Congregation Brothers of Israel, Elberon, New Jersey.
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