Challenges On The Road

On several occasions,1 it has been explained that the task of transforming the world into a dwelling for G‑d began after the entry of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael. The 40 years in the desert were to prepare the Jews for their Divine service in that holy land.

Divine service involves persevering in one’s mission despite challenges and obstacles. For it is only by overcoming challenges that our innermost powers of soul are aroused.2 For this reason, the 40 years of wandering were years of challenge for the Jewish people, as it is written:3 “to challenge you, to verify what is in your heart, that you will keep His commandments.”

In general, there are two types of challenges: poverty and affluence.4 In the desert, the Jews were confronted by both. Indeed, both were associated with the manna. For the manna represented the ultimate in affluence. It was “bread from heaven”; it did not produce any waste,5 and in it, one could taste any flavor one desired.6 In contrast, “bread from the earth” produces waste and is limited in its flavor. Moreover, our Sages relate that jewels and pearls descended together with the manna, bestowing affluence upon the Jewish people in the most literal sense.

On the other hand, the manna also produced a challenge of poverty, as reflected in the verse:7 “He fed you manna... to give you hardship.” As our Sages explain,8 the hardship involved the fact that the manna did not provide complete satisfaction.

One opinion explains: “A person who has a loaf of bread in his bread box cannot be compared to one who does not.” The manna would descend day by day, and the Jews could not set any aside for the following day. This detracted from the satisfaction they felt while eating.

Another rationale is offered: “A person who sees what he is eating cannot be compared to a person who does not.” For although the manna could taste like any food the Jews wanted, they would see only manna, and this prevented them from feeling satisfied.

The question arises: How can one entity induce both poverty and affluence?

What Our Pockets Cannot Contain

The two contradictory effects of the manna are a result of its transcendent nature. The wealth which accompanied the manna (the ability to taste any flavor, and the jewels which came with it) was a result of it being “bread from heaven,” a G‑dly entity, for G‑dliness is totally unlimited. For this reason, even after the manna descended and became part of our material world, its spiritual qualities were retained.9 Accordingly, it did not produce waste, nor was it limited to one particular flavor. Indeed, its perfection included precious stones, the ultimate in the realm of inanimate objects.

Because of the manna’s unique spiritual nature, it could not be produced by ordinary worldly effort. Our plowing and sowing would not cause it to grow. It was given as a present from G‑d, and not as a reward for our Divine service.10 For this reason, it was totally dependent on His initiative, and descended from day to day — reflecting the integration of spirituality (which is above time and space) and our material world, in which each day is different from every other.11

For this reason, we could not see in the manna all the foods whose flavors it could manifest. For our limited mortal eyes could not appreciate the unbounded spiritual potential the manna contained.

This explains the manna’s fusion of affluence and poverty. Since it was a manifestation of spirituality, it was not limited at all. Nevertheless, as it became part of our world, it was associated with poverty, for it left a person with nothing of his own. Nor was he able to see what he was eating. For the manna did not take on the appearance of even simple food.12

Thus although the manna represented ultimate wealth, with regard to its recipients, it represented ultimate poverty. For they could not point to it and say: “This is mine.”

Within — and Beyond — Our Ken

The above also helps us understand the interpretation of the verse:13 “He made you suffer, and He starved you by feeding you the manna,” which implies that not only did the manna not produce satisfaction, it produced hunger. This is difficult to understand. Why did the manna produce hunger?

The concept can be explained as follows: Every entity in this world is a discrete creation, different from every other. This also describes “bread from the earth.” It is food, nothing else. It has a specific flavor. This can be sensed by a person, and this satisfies him.

When a limited human being eats “bread from heaven,” by contrast, he can feel its transcendent, spiritual nature. And yet, for that very reason, it does not satisfy him. For his appreciation of its unlimited nature causes him to desire more. Since the object of his desire is unlimited, his hunger for more is never sated. This concept is alluded to in the continuation of the verse cited above13 which describes the manna as something “which neither you nor your ancestors knew,” i.e., something which cannot be grasped by our conceptual framework.14

What is the way to relate to this unbounded potential? To step beyond one’s own boundaries and limitations.

When Adding Causes a Loss

On this basis, we can understand how the 40 years in the desert prepared the Jews for their observance of the Torah and its mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael, giving them the spiritual fortitude to overcome the challenges of both poverty and affluence.

Overcoming the challenge of affluence means negating the thought that “my strength and the power of my hand brought me this prosperity,”15 for it is “G‑d who gives you the strength to prosper.”16

Overcoming the challenge of poverty means realizing that no evil descends from above,17 and that it is man who is responsible for any difficulties he suffers. For this reason, we should not reject our sufferings, but should instead accept them with happiness.18

In this context, the manna can teach a significant lesson. Influence which descends from above is unlimited, the ultimate in affluence. Nevertheless, since all created beings are by nature limited, in order for that affluence to remain intact, man must not tamper with G‑d’s influence. Indeed, not only will tampering not bring him any gain — as the Torah relates with regard to the manna, “he who took more did not retain it”19 — he will lose. He will introduce poverty into matters which are by nature associated with the ultimate affluence.

The way to achieve affluence is to rise above one’s limited existence and desires, to forget about self-pride and to rely totally on G‑d. This makes man into a receptacle for G‑d’s influence, not only in spiritual matters, but also in material matters, opening him to an affluence that extends beyond the scope of our ordinary mortal capacities.20

Human Wisdom and Divine Knowledge

Wisdom is described with the analogy of food. For just as food is ingested and becomes part of a person’s being, so too, intellectual ideas are absorbed by our minds and become one with them.21

As above, there are two general categories of food: “bread from the earth” and “bread from heaven.” Similarly, with regard to the study of Torah, there is “bread from the earth” (mortal intellect) and “bread from heaven” (Divine intellect).

To explain: All forms of wisdom other than the Torah have their limits. Aside from the fact that they are restricted to intellect and do not involve other potentials, every idea is limited, just as ordinary food is limited to one taste. Moreover, all ideas developed by mortal intellect lead to certain irrelevant matters, “waste.”

Use of our mortal intellect to comprehend ideas leads to satisfaction. Figuratively speaking, a person “sees what he is eating,” and has “a loaf of bread in his bread box,” for these concepts are accessible. For these reasons, the study of mortal wisdom can lead to self-satisfaction and pride.22

The opposite is true with regard to the wisdom of the Torah. The Torah is pure truth, with no waste. And it is unlimited, including all “flavors.” Moreover, the Torah also leads to actual material wealth (as the manna contained jewels and pearls).

For this reason, when studying Torah, a person feels that he cannot grasp it in its totality; the Torah’s unlimited truth transcends his comprehension. As a result, Torah study will never lead to pride; indeed, it leads to self-nullification. As the verse states:23 “As one adds knowledge, one increases pain.” The more one studies the Torah, the more one feels an acute lack in one’s comprehension, and a great thirst and hunger to study.

Extending the analogy, both of the categories exist within the Torah itself.24 Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, is G‑d’s wisdom and will. Nevertheless, it is presented in a form which has descended until it relates to mortal intellect and material entities. For this reason, it has certain limitations, and there is a parallel to waste, as our Sages comment:25 “If one is unworthy, the Torah becomes like poison.” Thus it can be described as “bread from the earth.”

P’nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah’s mystic dimension, by contrast, is utterly without limits and produces no waste whatsoever. It is “an elixir of life,”24 “bread from heaven.”

Who a Jew Really Is; What Makes Him Happy

The yetzer hora is “experienced at its craft.”26 It realizes that it is impossible to convince a Jew to deny the importance of the Torah, for every Jew holds the Torah dear. Indeed, the Tanach relates27 that Achav, who voluntary committed the sin of idol worship, considered the Torah as “the treasure of [his] eye.” Therefore, when it desires to draw a person away from the study of the Torah in general, and the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah in particular, the yetzer hora offers indirect arguments.

It claims: “The Torah is unlimited; no matter how much you study, you will never be able to comprehend it entirely. Indeed, the more you study, the farther you feel from complete comprehension. Therefore the best course of action is to deal with entities which you can comprehend. Devote yourself to material things. This will satisfy you, for material entities can be fully comprehended.”

Nor does the yetzer hora tell a person to ignore Torah study entirely. It agrees that one must know how to observe Torah law, and therefore should study a fixed amount of Torah in the morning and a fixed amount of Torah in the evening. “But,” argues the yetzer hora, “it should be a fixed amount, a law or two. If you want to be meticulous, an entire chapter, and if extremely meticulous, one should attend a class. But by no means should you make an overwhelming commitment. You will never be satisfied, for there is no way you can grasp it entirely. All you will do is cause yourself suffering.”

Continuing, the yetzer hora also addresses itself to the subject matter studied: “You should study only nigleh, not P’nimiyus HaTorah. After all, P’nimiyus HaTorah deals with concepts which we cannot grasp. These ideas are by nature above mortal intellect.”28

A person must realize that these are the arguments of the yetzer hora. Theargument not to involve oneself with “bread from heaven,” but instead deal solely with “bread from the earth” is the first step away from the path of Torah. By accepting one aspect of the yetzer hora’s argument, a person allows himself to fall deeper and deeper into its snares. In this vein, our Sages say29 that the yetzer hora is at first like a passerby. Afterwards, it is like a guest; ultimately, it becomes the owner of the home.

Based on the above, we can appreciate the lesson taught by the Torah with regard to the people’s complaints about the manna. They did not want “bread from heaven,” food that is above the material realm. Instead, they wanted ordinary food, food which produces waste.

And this initiated a downward trend. Soon they were “weeping with their families,”30 interpreted by our Sages31 to mean, “lamenting the prohibitions against incest and adultery.”

Moreover, the yetzer hora’s argument that it is the material, and not the spiritual which will bring satisfaction is also faulty. The essence of a Jew’s being is spiritual. If, heaven forbid, he cuts himself off from the spiritual and involves himself in material matters alone, he will never be sated. Regardless of how much he achieves, he will not be satisfied. There is no way he can, for this is not who he is.32

It is the spiritual which reflects his essential nature. And thus, if he becomes an empty receptacle and sheds his self-concern and individual limits, he will be able to receive, being granted not only spiritual things, but also material things. He will enjoy G‑d’s abundant generosity, more than a mortal is able to accept.20 Since he regards the spiritual and the material as the same, he will be granted unlimited blessings in both realms.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5721)