A Miraculous Punishment by Aaron Fishkind


In this week's Parashah, we read about the splitting of the Yam Suf (Shemot 14:5-28), the recitation of Az Yashir (15:1-19), and many other monumental occasions in Jewish history. One of the most striking scenes in BeShalach is when Bnei Yisrael complain to Moshe regarding their lack of food and exclaim that it would have been better if they had died in Mitzrayim (16:3). How could Bnei Yisrael complain to Moshe immediately after experiencing miracles which were performed before their eyes? Perhaps even more striking than Bnei Yisrael’s outburst was Hashem's reaction. Instead of punishing Bnei Yisrael for their lack of appreciation, He immediately instructs Moshe to tell the people that He will provide food for them during their stay in the desert (16:4). The Jews would simply exit their tents and collect their allocated portion of the Man daily.

This story is in great contrast with a similar story in which Bnei Yisrael complained that they desire meat (BeMidbar 11:4) and Hashem punished them by sending quail and a plague which killed many of the complainers (11:33). Why did Hashem answer Bnei Yisrael’s complaints in Sefer Shemot, at a time when the Jews should have, perhaps, have their most Emunah in Hashem, but punish Bnei Yisrael for their complaints in Sefer BeMidbar, at a time when they understandably were lacking in Emunah? 

The Gemara (Yoma 75b), records a debate as to what the nature of the Man was. Rabi Akiva states that the Man had the same properties as the food of the angels, while Rabi Yishmael claims that the Man was a pure food which was completely absorbed by the body. The common denominator between these two opinions, though, is that the Man was a supernatural substance.

Although the supernatural Man appeared to be a gift that Bnei Yisrael received for their complaints, it might actually be a punishment. Between Yetzi’at Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, the Jews witnessed many miracles, and they might have become accustomed to living with miracles. By giving Bnei Yisrael the Man, Hashem was essentially giving them another miracle, further making them rely on supernatural occurrences. All of these miracles eventually led to the biggest downfall in Jewish history, the Cheit HaEigel. The Jews were accustomed to miracles, so when Moshe was late in coming down from Har Sinai (Shemot 32:1), the Jews did not know how to react. Everything had gone perfectly for them during their time in the Midbar, so when something finally occurred that was not according to plan, Bnei Yisrael panicked and sinned with the Eigel HaZahav. Therefore, the Man resulted in a sort of punishment because it continued the supernatural chain of events that unfortunately contributed to the drastic fall of the Bnei Yisrael.

After analyzing the “gift” of the Man, it appears that the Man’s short term gift turned into a long term punishment. We can learn from the falling of the Man that sometimes we receive a punishment from Hashem which appears to be a gift, and, sometimes, we might receive a gift from Hashem which appears to be a punishment. Therefore, it is imperative that regardless of what happens to us, we understand that it is from Hashem and is meant to benefit us. If we do so, we will hopefully be able to strengthen our Emunah in Hashem.

The Cause of Closeness by Binyamin Jachter

One is the Whole by Rabbi Raphi Mandelstam