The Manna Awakens Faith in Divine Providence
When the Torah describes the manna that descended for the Children of Israel, it states: “He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the manna that you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, but from the mouth of Hashem does man live” (Devarim 8:3).
We need to think about this. The Children of Israel journeyed in the desert for 40 years, and during all that time – every day, morning after morning – Hashem sent them the manna, food described as “the bread of the mighty” (Tehillim 78:25). The manna descended at the entrance of their tents, meaning that all they had to do was to go out and gather what they needed to eat. The manna possessed extraordinary qualities: It was digested entirely by the body, and a person eating it could perceive any flavor that he desired in it, as the Gemara tells us: “Rabbi Abahu said: Just as the infant finds very many flavors in the breast, likewise Israel found many flavors in the manna as long as they were eating it” (Yoma 75a). It was truly spiritual nourishment.
As a result of this spiritual nourishment, the Children of Israel merited, as the Sages say, for “the Torah [to] only [be] given to those who eat the manna.” The Ba’al HaTurim points out an allusion in the verse: “He made them eat the manna to make them understand – this teaches us that when they ate the manna, it gave them discernment. It is said in Ezra, ‘You gave them the manna to teach them.’ This signifies the concept that the Torah was only given to those who eat the manna.” In fact the manna, since it was spiritual food, rendered the Children of Israel fit to receive the Torah. Only after eating it did they became worthy of receiving the Torah.
This means that spiritual abundance descended from heaven and took the form of the manna. Spirituality donned physicality, all so that men could be capable of eating it in this world. The Torah was only given to those who ate the manna, for by the constant spiritual abundance that it provided, the manna rendered them fit to receive the Torah.
In that case, why does the verse state that the manna was given “in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, but from the mouth of Hashem does man live”? Was there no other objective in sending them the manna, such as to prepare them for receiving the Torah, and to give them discernment, as the Ba’al HaTurim says? Furthermore, what is the significance of the Torah being given only to those who eat the manna? Have we, who do not eat manna, not received the Torah? Therefore what does it mean that “the Torah was only given to those who eat the manna”?
It seems that everything results from the same thing. When they left Egypt, the Children of Israel were in a difficult spiritual situation, having breeched the 49 gates of impurity. Just a little more, and they would have breached the 50th gate. In fact their spiritual situation was so bad that the ministering angels asked the Creator of the universe how the Children of Israel differed from the Egyptians, since “these are idolaters, and those are idolaters.” However the Holy One, blessed be He, was aware of and understood their virtues. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is why He chose them from among all the peoples and wanted to give them the Torah. Since in their present condition – despite having witnessed the ten plagues in Egypt, and despite the fact that they saw the sea split, experienced prophesy, and sang the song by the sea – they were still not worthy of receiving the Torah. He therefore led them for 40 days, and on each of these days they proceeded from a gate of impurity to a gate of purity. Hence they worked to strengthen the principles of Judaism within themselves, the principles of Torah. It was only after 49 days, on Sivan 6, that they became worthy of receiving the Torah. During that time, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent them an additional gift that would make them fit to receive the Torah, namely the manna. The manna prepared the Children of Israel by infusing them with faith in the Creator of the universe. By eating the manna day after day, the Children of Israel filled themselves with the knowledge that “not by bread alone does man live.” That is, we are not our own masters in this world, definitely not, for there exists a Creator, One Who directs all there is. Everyone benefits from individual providence – “from the mouth of Hashem does man live” – and no one lifts a finger on earth without cause. Everything results from the extraordinary providence of the Creator of the universe. This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, infused into the Children of Israel by means of the manna, the bread of heaven, the bread of the mighty, which by its very nature contradicts all the laws of nature. That is, how could something physical be completely absorbed by the human body, being here one minute and gone the next? How could it change taste according to a person’s thoughts? If it were physical, it had to be limited to a single taste, and if it were spiritual, how could it possess size and shape?
This occurred solely because the physical is also spiritual by nature, solely because the Holy One, blessed be He, directs the world and is the One Who gives life to all His creatures. He is the One Who, in His goodness, renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation.
The Creator of the universe infused this understanding into the Children of Israel, which is precisely why the Torah was given to those who recognized this truth. This was the special understanding that was given to them by having eaten the manna, for if a person realizes that his entire life depends on G-d’s will – if he believes with complete faith that the Creator watches over all of His creations, and that everything happens according to His will – he will then realize that if G-d so desires, he will live, and otherwise…. With that understanding, a person will certainly do the Creator’s will as he should, so that He may grant him life. Hence this understanding preceded the giving of the Torah, taking place in a way that was conducive to complete obedience to the Creator of the universe. Furthermore, the point is not that the Torah does not belong to us – to us and to our descendants – just because we did not merit eating the manna. Rather, it is that the giving of the Torah must only come after this incredible realization, a realization that was the privilege of those who ate the manna, namely that “from the mouth of Hashem does man live.” In fact man’s task is to carry out the Creator’s will, for He is the One Who governs the world. Thus a person who acknowledges everything that we have said will stand at the same level as those who ate the manna, and as a result he is worthy of receiving the Torah and studying it. As the Sages have said, a person must acquire the fear of G-d before learning Torah, for “the fear of Hashem is the beginning of wisdom” (Mishlei 1:7).