“Who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to cause you hardship and to test you only to benefit you in the end” Deuteronomy 8:16


What was the hardship and what was the test brought by the manna? It fell miraculously without needing labour. It tasted differently to each person, according to their preference and appetite. It even fell in a double portion on Friday so that there was enough for Shabbat. It sounds like a blessing and not a hardship!

Two answers are given in the Talmud, one by Rabbi Ami and the other by Rabbi Assi: “One said, a person who has bread in his basket is not like a person who does not have bread in his basket; while the other said, one who sees and eats is not like one who does not see and eats.”

These two opinions point to two different psychological challenges created by the manna. First, there was never any stored away, it fell and was eaten on the same day. Indeed, if anyone did try to put aside manna for the next day, it would become rotten. Every day the food was used up and every day the Israelites had to have faith that it would fall again, and that was hard.

Secondly, the appearance of the manna did not reflect its taste, because each person experienced it differently. We have a natural preference for “what you see is what you get”. We like to understand what we can expect and for reality to fit our expectations. The manna did not give that satisfaction, and that was its second hardship.

These two hardships of the manna should make us sensitive to different types of suffering. The hardships brought by the manna were not obvious, they were internal. They were not apparent from the verse and it took the insight of the rabbis to explain them. Some people’s difficulties are very open and generosity comes naturally. But when suffering is hidden, we have an additional challenge. We have to take more care to understand it and to do whatever we can to help.

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