Parshas Beshalach #1
“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Behold, I shall shower down bread from Heaven for you. And the nation will go out and gather the portion for the day, in order for Me to test them: will they follow My Torah, or not?” (Shmos 16:4).
The Jewish people, newly liberated from Egypt through a series of spectacular miracles, began what would be a forty-year sojourn in the desert. They were granted yet another miracle, on a scale unequaled at any time in history: the manna, a daily supply of food direct from Heaven. Every detail surrounding the manna was clearly Divinely orchestrated, and unmistakably miraculous.
However, why did Hashem say that the manna was a “test”? It was a perfect food, provided with no effort and at no cost. What was the element of “test” in a gift which appeared to be pure blessing?
The Ohr HaChaim offers an insightful answer: the test was the very fact that the manna was effortless (Shmos ibid.).
The Jews in the desert, known as the Dor HaMidbar, did not have to work for a living; they literally lived on miracles. Their food fell from Heaven, and water was supplied by the Well of Miriam, which accompanied them on their travels (Taanis 9a). Their shoes and clothing were maintained in good condition by the Ananei Kavod, the Clouds of Glory (Devarim 8:4, 29:4; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:23). They had no need to hold jobs, shop, or commute.
Freed of the burdens of employment and many housekeeping tasks, they presumably had a great deal of free time on their hands. As we learn from the Ohr HaChaim, this was the test of the “bread from Heaven:” what would they do with their time during the years in the desert?
Ever since the desert, we have been working hard for our “bread,” along with a host of other necessities: clothing, housing, healthcare, tuition, transportation, and more. Earning a living often takes up the bulk of our time and energy. Many of our needs require not only money to cover the costs, but also the investment of endless hours of preparation and upkeep.
It is true that we no longer receive manna. Nonetheless, we have been blessed with many conveniences unknown in former times. We have a shorter five-day work week, and a proliferation of modern machinery and technology, all designed to make life much easier. Travel time has been greatly reduced, and many laborious chores are now facilitated by the use of appliances. Email and remote access allow us greater flexibility by enabling us to work away from the office.
All this should mean that we have more leisure time at our disposal than ever. Somehow, this does not always happen… the technology itself, intended to serve us, can take up inordinate amounts of time and attention. Clearly, this too is a test. Technology can increase our efficiency, but it can also swallow up precious hours every day. Are we using our time productively, or wasting it on computer games, the internet, and endless “relaxation?”
Question for Discussion:
On any given day we will have at least some downtime, ranging from a few minutes to a sizable block of time. How do you use your free time productively?Click Here To Respond
Rabbi Ari Enkin, originally from Canada, now in Ramat Beit Shemesh, is the author of a number of English-language works on a variety of halachic topics. At one time, he was the regional manager of an Israeli financial services company. In the introduction to Halachah Bilvad, he wrote that this job afforded “a tremendous amount of free time which allows me to pursue my academic pursuits. Believe it or not, this book was both researched and written in its entirety during… work hours, between customers.” With his employer’s consent, Rabbi Enkin turned what could have been wasted time into a major accomplishment.
Laizer, an old high school friend, started learning mishnayos early every morning with his seven-year-old son Zeve. They kept it up for years, learning in the morning, learning while waiting on lines, and in general, learning whenever they had downtime. They reached an impressive milestone in honor of Zeve’s bar mitzvah: a siyum on Shishah Sidrei Mishnah.
Dahlia, a speech therapist originally from Arad, now in Jerusalem: I work at Hadassah Medical Center, specializing in patients who have suffered strokes, brain injuries and the like. Unfortunately, because of their condition, they have far too much “free time” on their hands. Their functioning is greatly diminished, and they are unable to carry on with the active lives they led before. From my vantage point, I have come to recognize that it is a great blessing to be busy with a normal, healthy life, even if it does not allow for much leisure time.