Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Parshat ha'Man and Humanity

In the mornings, when I have time, I like to say some of the extra stuff at the end of davening. I try to say the 6 Zichronot, the Ani Ma'amins (more on that another time, I think) and the tefilot for parnasa, including Parshat ha'Man.

Now, for those of you who don't know what this is, it's a prayer for sustenance along with a selected Torah reading about the giving of the Manna - which is sort of the fundamental notion of God's provision of sustenance to His people.

There were a couple of things that struck me this morning... well, one of them struck me quite some time ago, but I've never written about it before.

One of the important things to know about it, if you haven't read it, is that it chronicles the People's failure to comply with God's orders... twice:

  1. They were told to take only a measure for each person in their household, to last the day. They were not to take extra, and they were not to leave any over. The Torah records that they did, in fact, take extra, and that it became wormy and dried out. Moshe gets mad at them and yells at them.

  2. On Friday, they went out and found double the amount they had found on the other days. They went and told Moshe, who told them that this is the way it was going to be. On Fridays they would collect double portions for everyone in the household, and prepare it for Shabbat. They would eat one day's portion on Friday, and the remainder they would hold over until Shabbat morning. They should by no means go out on Shabbat morning to collect Manna, because it wouldn't be there.

    The Torah then records that the Manna they held over until morning did not become wormy and dried out, and that they did go out to collect, but found nothing. This time God Himself gets mad at them, asking Moshe, "Until when will they listen to me?" (or something like that - I don't have Chumash in front of me at the moment.)
Now, sidestepping the question about who got mad when and why, my question is basically, why get mad at them at all?

Now I have an answer to this, which is compelling, but not at all satisfying. Simply, God commanded them not to leave it overnight during the week, and not to collect it on Shabbat. These were, therefore, commandments for them. They don't directly apply to us today, but they were very serious Issurei D'Oreita for them.

There is no problem with this answer, but I guess it doesn't really address the underlying question which is, why get mad at them at all?

Here's how I'm looking at it: God said don't do it. They wanted to see what would happen if they did, so they tried it. It became dried out and wormy. End of discussion. God said don't collect it on Shabbat. They wanted to see what would happen if they did, so they tried it. There was nothing there. End of discussion.

This, to me, sounds like Science. Hypothesis, experiment, conclusion. What's wrong with that?

"But this is God," you'll say to me. "Where was their bitachon?"

Furthermore, I will acknowledge that it's unreasonable to hold that as an appropriate way to regard all mitzvot. In general, we don't believe in immediate, causal consequences. We don't believe, for example, that if you break Shabbat a lightning bolt will come down from the skies and cook you like a turkey, so that sort of experimentation wouldn't work with everything.

But in this case, it did. It was like testing Gravity or Air Pressure. "I wonder what happens if..."

And there's another thing... This is how God created us. He gave us an innate curiousity about the world. He made us want to experiment and to find out how things work. He's why we have Science; why we've developed the methodologies we use to learn about our world.

Not only that, but you can see this in us, His creation, since our beginnings. This is exactly what Chava was doing with the Tree of Knowledge. This is especially true according to the opinions that hold that the whole conversation between Chava and the snake were really taking place in her head. She saw the snake on the tree and wondered why it didn't die - after all, Adam said, "Don't touch the tree, lest you die". But the snake was all over the tree, and fine. So she touched the tree... and didn't die. Hypothesis, experiment, conclusion. Then she hypothesized again... maybe you could actually eat the fruit...

Alright, so we're imperfect beings, but at least we come by it honestly... and God knew that because he created us this way. So why get so mad about the Manna?

I guess that's the personal responsibilty thing. Yes, it's in our nature to be curious, and to want to experiment. But we are expected to overcome our instincts and natural curiousities, if it means transgressing the Torah. The Rambam, for example, makes it very clear that we do not refrain from eating non-kosher food because the food is bad. We do it because God said so, and that's that.