In Parshat Beshalach, the Jews have made it out of Egypt and through
the Reed Sea, only to complain that they have no water. After Hashem
hears their complaint and provides them with water, they then complain
that they have nothing to eat. This time, Hashem’s response is (16:4)
“Behold I will rain down Man (i.e. Manna) upon you in order to test you
to see if you will walk in the ways of My Torah”. The question various
commentaries ask is: how does giving the Jews Man act as a test as to
whether or not they are keeping the Torah?
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) R. Elazar Ben Azariah says (3:21)
“If there is no flour there is no Torah”. This refers to the fact that
before a person can devote himself to Torah-study, he must first have
his basic sustenance provided. According to the Divrei Chefetz, the
Jews’ complaint about the lack of water and food was merely used as an
excuse not to accept Torah, since they were implying that they did not
have their basic needs met first. So Hashem was telling them “Now that
I have provided you with your basic needs and you have no excuses left,
I want to see if you will keep My Torah”.
Another explanation is from an anonymous commentary who also happens to
quote Pirkei Avot (6:4) as saying “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread
with salt, drink water in small measure..”. In other words, following
the way of Torah means that a person should not be overly involved in
the pleasures of this world. Regarding the Man, the Midrash says that
it could taste like anything a person wanted. Based on these points,
the commentary says “When Hashem said that He’s giving Man to see if the
Jews keep His Torah, He meant that depending on what the Jews made the
Man taste like, He would be able to determine whether or not they kept
to His Torah. In other words, those who made the Man taste merely like
bread with salt, demonstrated that they were not overly wrapped-up in
worldly pleasures and thus they were following the way of Torah.
However, those who made the Man taste like all kinds of delicacies,
proved themselves to be immersed in the pleasures of this world and were
thus not considered to be following in the path of Torah.
Finally, another spin on this verse is given by the commentary “Ben
Porat Yosef” who says that it is no big deal to be a G-d-fearing person
when one is poor because when one is in “dire straits” he is likely to
be calling out to Hashem constantly for help. The real challenge is
whether a person can be G-d-fearing when he is not in such “dire
straits”–i.e. when he has everything he needs. Thus, Hashem was
providing the Jews with everything they needed to see if they would keep
His Torah from a state of contentment.
Along these lines, Rav Kahana Shlita once told of an experience he had
some years ago, when a man came to his shul. This man said to Rav
Kahana “When I was young, my family was so poor that every night before
I went to sleep I asked Hashem for just one thing, namely that I should
not wake up the next morning. The reason why I did this was because the
hunger pains that I had were so severe that I just didn’t want to live
another day. Today, I am a multi-millionaire. Having tasted both
object poverty as well as great wealth, I can tell you that my challenge
in serving Hashem is greater today as a wealthy man than it was back
then as a poor boy”.
The Gemarra (Pesachim 118) says “Man’s sustenance is as difficult as the
splitting of the Reed Sea”. As to why a person’s sustenance is compared
to the difficulty of the splitting of the Sea, perhaps we can say the
following based loosely on something that R. Yisrael M’Gustenin says.
At the Reed Sea, the Jews were trying to come up with various man-made
solutions to their problem of being surrounded by the Egyptian army on
one side, and by the Sea on the other. The last thing they would
consider was that their salvation could come from Hashem. Similarly, a
person usually views his sustenance as coming from a human source, such
as the employer who gives him his paycheck, his own brilliant
investments, the grocer who stocks the shelves with food, etc. It’s
often difficult for a person to remember that his sustenance really
comes only from Hashem.