The Torah tells us that “He afflicted you, He made you hungry and He fed you the mon, with which you and your fathers were not familiar. All this was in order that you should know that it is not by bread alone that man lives. Man lives by all that Hashem decrees…” (1)
What is the difference between bread and the mon? What was the importance of the affliction, and the fact that mon was unfamiliar to them and their fathers?
The Chasom Sofer (2) had many insights on these verses. They seem to imply that man does not need food to live. This was demonstrated by Moshe Rabbeinu and Eliyahu Hanavi: They survived lengthy periods without food or drink. However, the Torah does not say “Man does not need bread to live,” but “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Further, mon is also bread (bread from heaven). The verse should have said, “Not by earthly bread must man live, but he can live by bread from shomayim.” What are the verses trying to tell us?
The Praise of Klal Yisrael
The great praise that Hashem lavishes on Klal Yisrael is that they followed Hashem in the unsown desert, and did not question, “What shall we eat?” Now, we really have to consider: Hashem had performed many miracles for them as they left Mitzraim; would He leave them without food in the desert? Wasn’t it obvious that He would sustain them?
However, they had traditions from their fathers that Avrohom Avinu had been told to go to Eretz Yisrael, yet, he found famine there and left for Mitzraim. If Hashem did not sustain Avrohom’s family in the beautiful land of Eretz Yisrael, would He sustain 600,000 in the howling desert? Even so, not knowing what they would eat, they went after Hashem into the desert. This was their great praise.
In the end, He sent them the mon. However, the question now becomes: Why didn’t Avrohom receive the mon, so he wouldn’t have to go to Mitzraim?
Klal Yisrael couldn’t receive the mon until they withstood the test. They understood that Hashem did not give Avrohom mon in the promised land; even so, they went after Hashem into an unsown land. In this way, they merited the mon.
This is what the verses are saying: “He afflicted you, He made you hungry and He fed you the mon, with which you and your fathers were not familiar…” You didn’t hear that your fathers were sustained with mon in famine. Your fathers didn’t know this either, because Avrohom had to go to Mitzraim. This was the ‘affliction’ and ‘hunger’ because you weren’t assured that Hashem would sustain you. Why did He do this? So that you should know that it is not in bread alone that we put our trust. There is no assurance for tzaddikim in worldly matters, only in the words and decrees of Hashem.
The Chasom Sofer tells us that the plain meaning is that man’s faith should not be in bread. He does not live by bread alone; his faith must be in Hashem’s decrees and all that Hashem says. He should not question Hashem’s ways.
1. Devorim 8:3.
2. Toras Moshe, Parshas Eikev