Monday, January 13, 2014

a good type of hunger

In Parshas Eikev the Torah describes all the wonderful things that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael in the desert, among them, “Va’yi’ancha va’yarivecha vaya’achilcha es haman….,” that Bnei Yisrael felt hungry and Hashem sent the mon to feed them.  Why does the Torah include the fact that Bnei Yisrael suffered hunger in this context?  The Torah is singing the praises of the idyllic state of existence in the midbar and listing the miracles that happened there.  We understand why getting the mon belongs on that list, but why is the hunger that preceded the mon falling mentioned there? 

The Sefas Emes (link) finds an answer in the contrast between two different episodes of complaint mentioned in our parsha.  The first episode was that of the bitter water: Bnei Yisrael came to Marah and could not drink the bitter waters found there.  They complained to Moshe, asking what they were supposed to drink.  Hashem told Moshe to throw a certain tree branch into the water which sweetened the water (15:23-25).  The second episode was that of the man: Bnei Yisrael left Eilim and came to Midbar Sinai on the 15th of the second month.  The people then complained, “Had we died in Egypt we would at least have had flesh to eat and been satisfied with the bread we had.   Now that you took us into this deser we will die of hunger” (16:1-3).  In the first episode, the reason for complaint is clear.  The Torah opens the parsha by telling us that the water was bitter and the people had nothing to drink.  In the second episode, the Torah provides no introduction that would justify the complaint of hunger.  All we are told is that in the second month the people reached the Sinai desert – there is no mention of a lack of food, no mention of any other want.  Why did the people suddenly start complaining?

The Rishonim (e.g. see Ramban) struggle to find some hint in the parsha that would explain what the people lacked, but the Sefas Emes understands that the people in fact lacked nothing.  The tables were filled with food, the canteens were filled with water.  The problem is that you can have every material thing in the world that you need and still be starving.  The Navi Amos (8:11) tells us that one day there will be a hunger and a thirst not for food or drink, but a hunger to hear the dvar Hashem.  That’s the hunger the people were complaining about.

While slaves in Egypt the people were happy with regular food and drink, with bread and meat.  Their hunger was one of material want and physical need. However, after experiencing a yetzias Mitzrayim, a splitting of Yam Suf, after being uplifted and carried by Hashem, that same food and meat were not enough.  The people realized that there was more to life than dreaming of having a good steak dinner.  They wanted spiritual food to go with their spiritual existence.

Vayi’ancha va’yarivecha…”  The ability to feel this type of hunger, which in turned merited their receiving the mon, is itself one of the great wonders of life in the midbar.

Hashem is “masbi’a l’kol chai ratzon,” a provider to all according to want.  If all you are want in life is a good steak dinner, if that’s the food that charges your batteries and makes you happy, then that’s the food Hashem will provide.  But if you want something more, if you hunger for spiritual nourishment and not just for something to put in your belly, then Hashem will respond in kind and fill those wants as well. 

Update: Another look at those pesukim of "Vayiancha va'yarivecha..." from my wife's uncle, R' Ezra Shochet:

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  1. Nice vort. So how does he explain ויענך, and he afflicted them?

  2. yup, that's a weak point -- he doesn't explain it