"So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Difficulties in Life – Impetus for Growth – Parashat Ekev

In this week’s parasha, Parashat Ekev, Moshe continues delivering his monumental speech before Bnei Yisrael prior to his passing.  The speech is peppered with deep messages on Jewish philosophy and tools for proper and wise functioning in our daily life.

Everyone faces difficulties in life. Some people face financial challenges, others relationship troubles, and still others face health issues. When we examine several verses in this week’s parasha, we find that Moshe Rabeinu provided his people with a different perspective on the tribulations they suffered on their journey through the Sinai Desert on their way from Egypt to Israel. “And you shall remember the entire way on which the Lord, your God, led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Dvarim 8:2)

When reading the pasuk superficially, we understand that God brought afflictions upon Bnei Yisrael in the desert in order to test them and check their loyalty to Him. Would they follow Him in the desert even when their bread did not fall from the sky or if water would not come out of the rock? Would they trust Him and embark on this journey even if they were unsure if they would have food or water?

Rabbi Ovadia Sfornu (an important commentator who lived and worked in Italy about 500 years ago) provides us with another take on the concept of “test”.  He explains the words “to test you, to know what is in your heart” as “that what is in your heart goes from theory to practice”. Meaning, we all have both good and bad strengths within us.  Even if we know that when these strengths collide, the good will overcome the bad, until that happens in practice, this goodness will not become part of reality.

Only after, we have overcome a challenging period without harming our surroundings or our spiritual level, can we look back with satisfaction and feel the sweet sense that the good in our hearts management to raise us higher on the path toward complete goodness. There are those who say that the root of the Hebrew word for test (nisayon) is “nes”, meaning a high pole. It is the test that elevates the person.

This commentary is demonstrated even more clearly in the pasuk immediately following: “And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna…so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes froth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.” (Dvarim 8:3)

After Bnei Yisrael were hungry bread, they received the manna, that same bread that from the skies. “Only then could they wholly grasp that human life is not based only on material sustenance – bread, but rather are always dependent on “whatever comes from froth the mouth of the Lord”.

The Torah continues: “Your clothing did not wear out upon you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” (Dvarim 8:4) The Talmud (Yoma 76:1) talks about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s students asking him: Why didn’t the manna fall once a year for the entire year? Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai answered them with this parable. To what is this similar? To a flesh and blood king who had on beloved son. At the beginning, the king determined that this son would get everything he needed once year for the entire year. As a result, the son came to see his father once a year. So, the king changed his directives and ordered his son to get what he needed every day, for that one day, thus the king caused his son to see him every day.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai explained to his students that his is how it was with Bnei Yisrael in the desert. Everyone worried about tomorrow’s bread. A man who had a few sons would worry every day and say: What if the manna won’t fall tomorrow and everyone will die? As a result, Bnei Yisrael constantly focused on their Father in heaven.

We are the same. When we internalize and understand that all of life’s trials and tests are there so we can use them as an impetus to become better, to take the good in us and use it to overcome the bad, life takes on a brighter outlook and we live with much more serenity and joy.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

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