"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Friday, January 29, 2010

FNQ Parshat Hashavua – 5 questions and a thought

Beshalach - The challenge of Manna
1.The Torah says that receiving the daily portion of manna was a test – why is this a test?

2.The Gemara says that “greater is one who benefits from his own labors than one who fear G-d.” What does that mean?

3.If you were given these two options which would you choose?
1.You work to make enough money to live a simple but self sufficient lifestyle.
2.You are financially supported by someone else and live an extravagant lifestyle.

4.Why is it that many people who win the lottery experience a decline in the overall quality of their life?

5.I once heard that a Rabbi said the best blessing he could give parents that they should be successful raising their children is that they should not be rich. Do you agree?

Imagine the following: The setting is a very simple and bare home. A home with a living space containing no amenities, just the necessities. The refrigerator and kitchen cabinets are basically empty. In the corner of the living room can be seen a young child sitting in his mother’s lap. His cries are not loud and overbearing, but they are clearly an expression of discomfort and unhappiness. He is starving. He hasn’t had a good meal for months. He used to eat luscious, satisfying meals, but then the families condition took a turn for the worse and a good meal had become very rare. He says to his mother, “Mommy, I liked it so much better back when we had those yummy pots of food, and that tasty bread. But now we have nothing. Can’t we have that great food like we used to have?” The mother responds, “Yes my child. I shall give you some tasty food. What ever you want, any taste, you name it and you can have it. But listen my love, this food is a test...”

Give or take a detail or two, this is the predicament of Klal Yisrael after the miracle of the splitting of the sea. They are starving and beg Hashem for a good meal. He responds with the manna. But it doesn’t come out of a loving compassion of a parent so eager to feed it’s starving child, rather it comes as a test. Manny commentators discuss, at length, the question of the precise purpose of the test. But prior to this discussion, it seems that a more basic issue must be dealt with. Why does Hashem respond to His newborn nation, who is claiming that they are about to expire from starvation, with a test? Does this make sense? Would any decent, concerned mother respond to her starving child by putting him to a challenge? Doesn’t it seem more likely that our Merciful G-d would have responded with a benevolent, warm response of: “Oh my dear children, I can’t bare to see your tears and your anguish. Please, enjoy this feast. All I want is to see your joy and health.” This is not to say that tests and challenges from the most loving parent are not in order. On the contrary, to challenge a child is to spark his growth and maturation, which is a great expression of love. The difficult question is the timing. Why now? When is it proper to test and challenge, and when is it proper to be compassionate and loving?

This question is undoubtedly a central issue in any philosophy of pedagogy or parenting. Allow me to present an approach. Any moment is appropriate to present a challenge to a child or student, if it is presented properly.

Within Hashem’s presentation of the test within the manna, He gives the commandment of Shabbos. Klal Yisrael are told that each day they will go out and find the manna. On erev Shabbos they will find double the normal amount. Moshe tells Klal Yisrael that Hashem has commanded that they gather an extra portion for Shabbos on erev Shabbos and that no portion will fall on Shabbos. Reb Tzaddok HaKohen teaches in his sefer, Pri Tzaddik:

“...this is the essential meaning of “Yismechu bemalchutcha Shomrei Shabbos [Those who keep the Shabbos shall rejoice in Your Kingship]”, for they rest from their work and they become people of faith. On the other hand, the nations of the world do not comprehend the possibility of a person who is able to rest from work for one seventh of the entire year. This is as Chazal taught (Meilah 17), ‘Once the ruling kingdom made a decree that Klal Yisrael could not keep Shabbos. Rav Reuven Ben Istrubli cut his hair in the komi style (prevalent amongst the non-Jews) and he went and sat with them. He said to them “If one has an enemy, would he want them to become richer or poorer?” They answered, “poorer!” He said to them, “If so then you should tell them not to do work on Shabbos, so that they will become poor!” They replied to him, “You have spoken well”, and thy annulled the decree.’ And Klal Yisrael, the people of absolute faith, rest and become as new creations and rejoice in the Kingship of Hashem!”

The Gemara in Shabbos 10b, refers to Shabbos as a great gift directly from Hashem’s treasure house. Yet here it is presented as a great test for Klal Yisrael. There is no contradiction. On the one hand the test of not gathering the manna on Shabbos presents us with a challenge of our faith. We are meant to struggle and toil in the collection of our sustenance for six days a week. On Shabbos we have a different challenge. Do we have faith that Hashem will provide? Are we confident that our having faith means that lack nothing? At the same time Shabbos is the most wondrous treasure and gift. It is the day, on which, we have a taste of the world to come. It is an island where we rise above the trivialities of this world.

By giving manna Hashem challenges Klal Yisrael. “I shall give you this mysterious delight, how will you react? Will you stay true to our values? Will you be gluttonous and greedy or will you maintain the modesty and humility that is so basic and essential to being a Jew. Will you maintain faith in the process and celebrate the moments when all you have is just to trust in Me?” This great test, which comes at the very beginning of the development of our nation was presented with just the right balance of challenge and excitement; trial and reward, that made it the perfect educational endeavor. This challenge and gift of Shabbos continues to be a reality to this day. May we merit to properly embrace the challenge, appreciate the gift and most importantly achieve great levels of faith and trust in Hashem through it.

No comments:

Post a Comment