In this week’s Parsha Moshe tells the Jewish people, “Remember the path that G-d led you in the desert for 40 years . . . He gave you the manna – food from heaven for which you did not have to work . . . your clothes did not wear out nor did your shoes fall apart during these 40 years. This was all in order to test you.”
Rabbi Yissachar Frand raises a question. What kind of test is that? A test is a challenge. However, if I gave a test at the Academy and told my students that you can do it at home . . . use your notes or the internet . . . ask another student for help . . . that would not be much of a test. So, how can G-d supplying everything to the Jewish people and doing everything for them be considered a test?
Rabbi Frand quotes an answer from one of the commentators – the Sforno. The Sforno suggests an answer that sometimes what seems like an easier test is really quite more complicated than a seemingly more difficult test.
The Sforno writes, “To test you if you will do His will when you achieve food and clothing without trouble.” It is easy to turn to G-d and be religious when so many things seem to go wrong. A person is sick, so he davens or asks somebody to say a Mishebeirach for him. People have financial burdens, so they daven. Students have a test in school, so they say Tehillim. But, how many people turn to G-d and thank Him or give recognition to Him when things go well? You hit it well in the stock market . . . you make a successful business venture . . . you score very well on a test in school . . . you have your health . . . you have clothing . . . you have food on the table . . . you went on a vacation . . . how many of us give recognition and thanks to G-d for these types of happenings in our lives? Unfortunately, many people take the good for granted. Therefore, Moshe tells the Jewish people that all the good that G-d has granted you in the desert is a test . . . a test to see if you will still think about G-d in the good times in addition to the not as good times.
(It is also interesting to note that we say Tehillim when the situation does not look so good. What is wrong with saying Tehillim when times are good? “Shir Hama’alos” was said in the Bais Hamikdash as a part of the Simchas Beis Hasho’eiva celebration on Succos.)
From this week’s Parsha we can learn that not all our challenges in life are obstacles that we have to try to maneuver around them. Rather, one of the challenges in life is to recognize when we have it good and to give thanks to G-d for all the good that He has given us.
We find that throughout the forty-year journey of the Jewish people in the desert G-d did many good things on their behalf yet, many of them backfired because the Jewish people did not know how to react - what to do with the benefits.
Immediately after the splitting of the Red Sea, the Jewish people complained about lack of water. Forty days after the pomp and circumstance of the giving of the Torah they worshipped the Golden Calf. After miraculously travelling an eleven-day journey to the border of the Land of Israel in just three days, the Jewish people sinned with the incident of the spies.
And this continued upon their entrance into the Land of Israel. The Jewish people miraculously conquered the city of Jericho and then were demoralized with a loss at the city of Ai. A few hundred years later, they had strong leadership under the Prophet Shmuel and then rejected his leadership because they wanted a king in order to be like all other nations. King Solomon was on top of the world and then he outsmarted himself and his kingdom began to collapse.
Perhaps the problem that the Jewish people face is what the Torah warns us - when things go well we give ourselves too much credit as opposed to giving credit where credit is due – G-d. We forget about G-d and then we are in for trouble.
The Talmud relates a famous story about Choni HaM’ageil – Choni the circle drawer. He was a famous holy man who lived in the first century BCE during the era of the Hasmonean King Yannai and his successor the Jewish Queen Shlomtzion Hamalka. There was a drought in the Land of Israel, so the Jewish people asked him to daven that there should be rain. He ordered everybody to bring their ovens inside, so they should not be ruined. He davened but no rain fell. So, he drew a circle and prayed, “G-d, the Jewish people have turned to me to daven on their behalf. I swear to You that I will not leave this circle until it rains.” It began to drizzle. Choni davened to G-d, “I meant rains that fill wells and cisterns.” So, it began to pour. Choni then davened, “We need a steady rain.” So, a steady rain fell. He fine-tuned the rain. However, it kept raining and it got to be too much. So, the people came to him asked him to daven that the rain should stop. Choni told the people that rain is a bracha and one does not daven for a bracha to stop. Nevertheless, I will daven for you. So, Choni davened, “G-d, the jewish people cannot take too much bad nor can they take too much good. Please have mercy upon Your children.” And the rain stopped.
The Jewish people have difficulty dealing with too much good That is Moshe’s warning to the Jewish people in today’s Parsha - how to deal with good can be a greater challenge than dealing with difficulties.