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G-d said to Moses: 'I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people shall go and gather it daily, so that I may test whether they keep My Laws or not. On the sixth day… it will be double what they normally gather' (16:4-5).
The Israelites had not gone far into the desert before they started longing for the fleshpots of Egypt - and they accused Moses and Aaron of leading them there to die of starvation. As the text relates above, G-d assured Moses that the people would have food to eat, but the catering arrangements were to have an 'agenda' - by those means G-d would test 'whether they would keep My Laws or not'.
'My Laws' turned out to be those of Shabbat. The Israelites were to observe the Shabbat on the seventh day. One day a week they would not expend efforts in 'earning a living' as it was. They would have faith that their efforts during the week would cover them for Shabbat.
There are many ways G-d could have tested the already wayward and grumbling Israelites - using methods more closely related to food. He could have sent non-kosher as well as kosher sources of meat, and instruct the people to eat only the kosher ones. He could have tested them by telling them to wait in an orderly line, so that it there would be a fair division of food, on the 'first-come, first served' basis, and that no-one would trample on the rights of others. Why may be learnt about this way G-d tested them - linked specifically to the Shabbat?
One reason may be because Shabbat has a certain totality. I remember a young lady some years ago telling me that the reason she did not want to marry a certain person was because he observed Shabbat and she did not. I asked her: 'Would it really be a terrible catastrophe if you observed Shabbat according to the traditions of your own ancestors over the generations?' She hung her head and replied that she could not contemplate doing such a thing… she felt that she would thus be changing her real identity…
Let us look a little more deeply into her reaction - without any guarantee, of course, that that is what she in mind.
The roots of Shabbat are in the Creation: 'For six days G-d made the Heavens and the Earth, and He rested on the seventh day' (31:17). As the Chinuch (#32) puts it, our resting on the seventh day is an act of faith, linking ourselves with the very Force that created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. This is done in two ways - by not following weekly pursuits, and by filling the time with activities which are specifically designed to bring us nearer to the Creator - today's form being the extended and joyful prayers, the festive meals accompanied by songs and words of Torah, the weekly reading of the Torah, and the time the family have together. In computer language, Shabbat is the time when His People plug into Him.
Thus those who make the effort to 'plug into Him' will find it a positive experience. It will tie them to the source, whose Help will enable him to keep other Mitzvot as well… which fits in with text which states that though the test of Shabbat, He will test whether they keep My Laws or not…
[PS - Quite by chance, barring this note in square brackets, the total length of this D'var Torah came to exactly 613 words]
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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