“Who feeds you manna in the wilderness, which your forefathers knew not, in order to afflict you and in order to test you to do good for you in the end?” – Devarim 8:16
For forty years living in the midbar, the Jewish people ate mon. The Torah explains that one of the reasons the mon was given to the Klal Yisrael was in order to test them. The Sforno explains the test: “Will you do His will when He gives you your sustenance easily without pain?”
It seems the Sforno is telling us that the fact that the Jewish nation didn’t have to work was one of the great trials it faced.
This Sforno is very difficult to understand. We know that Hashem metes out many life tests. But where have we seen that not having to struggle is a challenge?
This question can be answered by focusing on why Hashem wants man to work. The ox was created to plow, the donkey to haul loads, the beaver to dam streams. But, man was created for a very different purpose. Man was not created to be a beast of burden. So, why does Hashem want man to work for a living?
One of the reasons can be best understood with a mashol. Imagine that a man recognizes his eight-year-old son has difficulty getting along with his peers. The little boy is constantly getting into fights, and in general seems to miss social cues. The school psychologist tells the father his son has social integration issues. He just doesn’t understand the rules of social conduct.
The father takes it on himself to help his little Moishe become a mensch. As part of the plan, he takes time off from work and invites Moishe and his friends to a play date. They are on the floor playing Monopoly when an ambulance passes outside, siren blasting. As the boys look to the window, the father notices Moishe reach into the “bank” and take out a five-hundred-dollar bill. The father doesn’t say anything. A few moments later, the doorbell rings. Again, all the boys look up, and Moishe reaches into the box and takes out two thousand dollars. When this happens again a few moments later, the father asks Moishe to join him in the kitchen.
“Moishe,” says the father, “I couldn’t help but notice that some of the money that belongs in the bank somehow ended up in your pocket. Can you explain this to me?”
“Sure,” Moishe answers. “Last night I heard you and mommy talking about how you need a lot of money. So here, I took this for you!”
While the sincerity of the little fellow might be touching, he is missing the point. The only reason the father was involved in this activity was to teach him how to be a mensch. The father doesn’t need the money, and certainly isn’t taking time off of his busy day to earn Monopoly money. But Moishe in his naiveté missed the entire point of the exercise.
This is an apt mashol to man working. Hashem doesn’t need man to work to earn a living. Hashem has lots of money. Hashem created the situation that man has to work to earn his daily bread. Now man is dependent. Now man can go through one of the greatest of life’s tests: how will he go about this activity called earning a living? Will he be honest? Will he be ethical? When he has difficulty in earning a living, will he learn to trust in Hashem, or will he make that ultimate mistake – thinking it is the sweat of his brow and the strength of his hand that earns him his bread?
Man Needs Needs
This seems to be the answer to the Sforno. The generation of the midbar was on a lofty level. They had received the Torah from Hashem and were living in a virtual yeshiva. While the mon took care of their daily needs, it was also as a great social experiment: would they attain the same closeness to Hashem without having to earn a living? Would they still reach out to Hashem if they didn’t lack for anything? Would they still come to recognize their dependence on Hashem if they didn’t need to struggle to survive? The mon was a test to see if they could reach greatness without the normal life settings – without needs.
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier