Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Challenge of Privilege

Perchik: Money is the world's curse.
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!
Fiddler on the Roof

In Parshat Beshalach we are introduced to the manna from heaven that sustained the Jewish People during their 40 year sojourn in the desert.

The manna is a fascinating topic, full of mystery and intrigue. For example, what did this miraculous substance actually taste like? In this week’s Parsha the taste is described as “like a wafer made with honey.” However elsewhere (Parshat Behaalotcha) the manna’s taste is described as “like bread kneaded with oil.” The rabbis of the Talmud famously solve this apparent contradiction by claiming that the manna tasted like anything you wanted. If you wanted it to taste like cheese- it tasted like cheese. If you wanted it to taste like a hamburger- it tasted like a hamburger. If you wanted it to taste like a cheeseburger….. it tasted like a cheeseburger that was either made with pareve cheese or pareve meat.

Another interesting discussion concerning the manna is: what bracha did one recite over manna? On the one hand, the fact that manna is not identifiable as requiring one of the specialized blessings would lead us to say that the proper blessing is “Sheakol”, the most generic and catch-all blessing. On the other hand, the manna was a miraculous substance, seemingly deserving of a more prominent blessing. According to one opinion, the blessing made before eating manna was unique: “Hamotzi Lechem Min Hashamayim”, Blessing G-d as “He who brings bread from the Heaven” (as opposed to the text of the blessing we recite on normal bread: “He who brings bread from the earth”).

In this week’s Parsha the manna is described by Hashem as a test. The commentators offer different explanations as to what the test was. Ramban explains that the manna was a test in our belief in G-d. There was no natural food in the desert. Each day G-d would provide enough manna for that day alone. Each day the Jews went to sleep at night with their pantries bare, no food in the refrigerator and no natural way of attaining their food the next day- neither for themselves nor for their children. From a natural perspective, it was a pretty hopeless situation. Bnai Yisrael were forced to depend on Divine intervention each and every day. The manna was a means of helping the Jewish People realize that their fate is really in G-d’s hands.

The Seforno offers a different understanding of the test. In a very succinct yet powerful comment he writes:
“The test was in whether the Jews would do G-d’s will when He provides food and clothing without pain, without effort
According to Seforno, the test of the manna was the challenge of privilege. How would the Jews respond to their every need taken care of, without even having to ask? Would it create a greater appreciation for G-d, allowing them to focus on more lofty goals? Or would they begin to develop a sense of entitlement, and become dissatisfied and spoiled?
From the story in the Torah it appears that the Jewish people did not pass the test of the manna with flying colors. Instead of appreciating the manna, they began to complain about it and claim that they needed more variety in their diets. The challenge of the manna continues to be a challenge that we face today. Studies have indicated that greater wealth does not correspond to greater levels of happiness. We must recognize that all that we have (and all that we don’t have) comes from G-d. What we have, and what we don’t, can be both a blessing and a challenge. We must utilize all of our experiences to develop a sense of appreciation and a connection with the Divine.

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