If one takes a cursory and objective glance at the recent history of the people of Israel and the rebirth of a Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel, one cannot escape the resemblance to a classical Biblical text. An oppressed, dispersed and maligned people ingathered to their ancient homeland.
A small, beleaguered nation fighting off multiple nations intent on their destruction. A two-thousand-year-old yearning to return to their beloved Jerusalem fulfilled in a miraculous six days. An economy that began with young pioneers fighting off malaria that has soared to unexpected heights in a mere sixty years.
Miracle after miracle. Yet most of the people who have experienced those same miracles would rather believe in happenstance and coincidence. That is partly because the miracles in this land have become so numerous that they are even expected and depended upon. More importantly, believing in miracles necessitates commitment and that belief is rife with implications. Most men would rather live their lives not being impacted by such implications.
The manna was also the stuff of miracles, a miraculous gift from the Heavens:
“And when the layer of dew was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: ‘What is it?’ – for they knew not what it was. And Moshe said unto them: ‘It is the bread which HaShem has given you to eat.'” (Exodus 16:14-15)
It was an item that appeared without fail every morning and sufficed the needs of every family:
“This is the thing which HaShem hath commanded: Gather ye of it every man according to his eating; an omer a head, according to the number of your persons, shall ye take it, every man for them that are in his tent. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.” (Exodus 16:16-18)
As King David was to write in the book of Psalms, these events were of great spiritual and supernatural importance:
“And He commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; And He caused manna to rain upon them for food, and gave them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat the bread of the angels (abirim); He sent them provisions to the full. (Psalms 78: 23-25)
Yet, a tired and nervous people were quick to listen to the evil counsel of the mixed multitude rabble amongst them:
“And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat! We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for naught; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have naught save this manna to look to. …And Moshe heard the people weeping, family by family, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of HaShem was kindled greatly; and Moshe was displeased.” (Exodus 11:4-10)
What happened? How did Moshe lose faith in his own people, which caused him to scream out, “I cannot carry this people by myself, for it is too much for me!”
What essentially, then, is the difference between miracles and nature? Perhaps there isn’t much of a difference at all. Nature simply occurs more frequently and regularly.
When the Israelites began to receive the manna from heaven, they were being taught the rudiments of faith. They were being taught to trust the promise of G-d and have the faith that the correct amount of sustenance would be available every single morning. Those that faltered in their faith and tried to hoard some of the heavenly bread simply found that the bread became destroyed. They too were taught to wait upon the promise. Finally they were also taught to expect to receive what they needed and not necessarily what they desired.
Each day, the Divine promise was kept. Each day, the miracle occurred. In time, the miracle became the natural. What was different, then, for those born in the desert between picking the dates off the tree in the oasis and picking up the manna covered by the dew? Both were expected and “natural” realities.
The miracle of the manna became commonplace. Even more importantly, the miracle of manna came with obligations. It came with rules and regulations and it necessitated faith. That is the subtext behind their comment, “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt freely (heenam); the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic. Now our bodies are withered, there is nothing at all but the manna before our eyes.”
They were slaves in Egypt and nothing was free. Rashi explains that what they were referring to was the fact that the food in Egypt came with no spiritual “strings attached”. They came with no mitzvot or expectations. The manna had limitations and expectations attributed to it. That was the burden that those of little faith could not continue to carry.
And the same is true of the land of Israel. It is no wonder that the miracle of the manna ceased upon the entry of the Israelites into the land: “And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:12 )
Those that do not understand, or prefer not to understand, will weaken and allow corruption and frailty to seep into their leadership and nation. Those that don’t want to see it will send flotillas and threats and abuse at this nation.
Those who understand the miraculous nature of this reborn state will not tire of the long, arduous voyage of this people and this land through history. They may sow with some tears but they will do it in joy and therefore they shall reap.