The Test Of The Manna
The manna tested the character of the newly freed Israelites--how they would respond to a situation of plenty and how they would cultivate their relationship with God.
Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.
The Israelites leave Egypt after the final plagues force Pharaoh to surrender; however, once the Israelites have left their slavery, Pharaoh has a change of heart and decides to chase after them with his army. The Israelites come to the Sea of Reeds, but are able to cross on dry land after God parts the waters, which then come together and drown the pursuing Egyptian army. Moses sings his "Song of the Sea," and Miriam leads the women in dance and rejoicing.
Still, the people are dissatisfied with conditions in the wilderness, and repeatedly complain, despite the fact that God provides them with "manna" and water. At the end of the parsha, there is a dramatic battle with the nation Amalek.
"God said to Moses: 'See here, I will rain down for them food from heaven, and the people will go out and collect a daily portion every day. Thus I will test them, whether they will follow My Torah or not'" (Exodus 16:5).
The Hebrew people have escaped to freedom in the wilderness only to find that there is no food or water in the desert; they complain and even nostalgically recall the food they ate in Egypt as slaves. They seem to blame Moses for their troubles; he, in turn, reminds them that it was God who took them out of Egypt.
God responds that God will provide food from heaven--the "manna"--as much as each person needs, with a double portion on Fridays so that the people do not need to gather on Shabbat. Each day the manna will fall, and whatever is left over will go bad; the people must collect their portion every day, and not attempt to hoard it.
The 15th-century Sephardic [Spanish or Mediterranean] Torah commentator R. Yitzhak Abarvanel (d.1508) notices a fundamental problem with this verse: When we say that someone is being "tested," we assume that they are going to have to do something difficult. The classic example from the Torah is in Genesis 22, when God "tested" Avraham by asking him to bring his son Yitzhak as a sacrifice.
However, as Abarvanel points out, God's beneficence in providing the miraculous "food from heaven" seems like an act of lovingkindness, not a difficult challenge! What kind of test is it to provide someone with food and water that they simply collect without any trouble at all?
Nevertheless, the plain meaning of the verse is that God is giving Israel some kind of temptation or challenge. Rashi interprets the phrase "follow my Torah" as applying specifically to the instructions pertaining to the manna. Thus, for Rashi, the test that God gives the Israelites is whether they will follow the specific commandments not to leave the manna over till the next day, and not to go out collecting it on Shabbat. (See verses 16:19-27.)
Other commentators understand the test in broader terms. Ibn Ezra (11th-century Spain) understands the test in light of the first part of our verse, which says that one's portion of manna must be collected every day. Ibn Ezra imagines God saying that the test is "so that they will rely on Me every day."