Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, the Torah discusses how Hashem sustained us in the wilderness with manna. The Torah states (Devarim 8:3): “He afflicted you and starved you, and He fed you the manna, which you and your forefathers did not know.” The Midrash relates (Koheles Rabbah 5:11-12 , slightly paraphrased):
R. Chananiah and R. Yonasan asked Menachem the baker: “What is the meaning of ‘and He afflicted you and starved you, [and He fed you the manna]’? Was the manna that Holy One Blessed Be He gave the People of Israel a food that made them feel starved?” How did Menachem answer? He brought in two cucumbers, one whole and the other broken in pieces. He asked: “The whole one, how much does it sell for?” They replied: “Two manehs.” Menachem continued: “And the broken one, how much does it sell for?” They replied: “One maneh.” He said to them: “Isn’t the broken one the same size as the whole one? But they are not the same, for just as one enjoys the taste, one also enjoys the appearance.” … Thus Shlomo states (Koheles 5:10): “As the blessing grows great, so does the number of those who consume it. [What advantage, then, does the owner have, aside from what his eyes see?]” One who sees his breadbasket empty feels hungry, while one who sees his breadbasket full feels satisfied. [I.e., the verse teaches that a wealthy man benefits simply from seeing his great wealth, even though he himself partakes of only a small portion of it.]
I present here (in part) the Maggid’s explanation of this Midrash.
There are two basic forces that motivate a person to strive for material assets: intellect and desire. The force of the intellect leads a person to acquire the material resources that are necessary to maintain his existence, but goes no further than that. Thus, if a person were driven by his intellect alone, he would disdain extra indulgences. The force of desire, however, leads a person to hanker for everything that the world encompasses, including those things that he does not actually need. Human tendencies bear innumerable footprints of the force of desire. The Midrash above presents one example. Although the two cucumbers are the same size, the whole one is more appealing because it caters to the force of desire, as manifested in the appetite for looking at pretty things.
This idea sheds light on another Midrash. In regard to the end of the six days of creation, the Torah relates (Bereishis 1:31): “And God saw all that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” The Midrash comments (Bereishis Rabbah 9:7): “‘Behold, it was very good’ – this refers to good inclination. ‘And, behold, it was very good’ – this refers to the evil inclination.” We see here that Hashem distinguishes between the forces that that drive a person to seek material assets, and places a sharp demarcation between them. The force of the intellect, which leads a person to seek simply what he needs, is called the good inclincation. In parallel, the force of desire, which eggs a person on to seek more and more – as reflected in the word and – is called the evil inclincation: It is evil in Hashem’s eyes.
We now explore the rationale behind Hashem’s decision to sustain the wilderness generation specifically with manna. Hashem showed extraordinary kindness to the wilderness generation, and cared for them in every way, as the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2 describes at length. We may ask, though, why Hashem chose to care for them through miraculous means. With His unlimited power, He could have easily employed natural means – sturdy homes for shelter, bread and other regular food for nourishment, and so on. Instead, He sheltered them in booths and clouds of glory, and nourished them with manna from heaven. Why?
The answer is that Hashem had a disdain for natural means. The Gemara in Sukkah 52b tells us that Hashem regrets creating the evil inclincation. One clear sign of Hashem’s regret is that when He needed to care for the Jewish People in the wilderness, He did not reemploy the means He originally employed to care for man, because they awaken the force of desire. He instead created a new scheme which did not awaken the force of desire.
This is the idea behind the Midrash we began with. Moshe tells the Jewish People: “He [Hashem] afflicted you and starved you, and He fed you the manna, which you and your forefathers did not know.” Hashem wanted to place the Jewish People under a new regime – one that would avoid all stimulation of their physical desire, so that their holy souls would be purified and purged of all defilement. He was therefore led to develop for them a new form of food. He gave them bread from Heaven, which provided their essential sustenance while starving their physical desire.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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