praying western wall

Fulfilling our needs can provide a strong motivation to pray, and lacking something important can be an open door to connect with God.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is Chukat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1) and among the many exciting events that are recorded in it, we also read that the Jewish people complained (yet again!) about their experience in the desert.

This time their primary complaint was about the manna, the food that fell from heaven. God was really fed up with their complaints. After all, He was providing for all of their needs for free! So, He decided to take action. As a punishment, He sent poisonous snakes that caused the death of many people.

The question is asked: Why did God decide to punish the people for their manna complaints specifically with snakes? What’s the connection?

The Jews were complaining about the manna. The manna was food sent by God Himself that satiated the people, provided them with all their vitamins and nutrients, and tasted like anything they wanted it to taste–you name it: hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, pizza, the works. (Though sources say that it could not taste like garlic or onions. Seriously!) Nevertheless, the people didn’t appreciate this Divine dining arrangement and chose to complain.

Snakes, on the other hand, generally only eat dust . . . and yet, they don’t complain! As such, God said, “Let the snakes, who eat dust and do not complain, come to punish my nation Israel, who gets to eat manna and still finds reasons to complain!”

There is another dimension to the snakes, as well. The commentators write that the reason the Jewish people complained about the manna had nothing to do with its taste, quality or any other qualitative characteristic. As mentioned, the manna tasted like anything they wanted.

So what aspect of the manna were they complaining about? They were complaining about the fact that they were only permitted to gather the amount of manna needed for a single day. They were not allowed to gather any extra, not even a drop, that could be left over and eaten the next day.

There is a very similar contemporary equivalent. It is obviously much more reassuring to receive one’s salary in a way that carries one over for more than just that very day. Indeed, salaries are generally paid out monthly or bi-weekly, so people can better stretch their money and balance their budgets. However, if an employee must worry each and every day if he is going to get paid that day, it makes for very stressful financial planning!

The manna was essentially a “daily pay” system. Their needs were provided for on a day-to-day basis. Although God promised them their daily needs and rations, there was always some internal doubt, some worry, whether or not they would truly have something to eat the next day. They didn’t like the system. They wanted some “money in the bank” and some food in their cupboards for the next day.

Their complaints were actually reasonable, no? So why indeed did God insist on daily “payments”?

It is explained that God wanted His people to be close to him. If they were to have all their needs securely in place in advance they would likely grow distant from God and take their sustenance for granted.

However, when people need God on a daily basis, they are more likely to pray, and to remember and recognize God’s kindness more frequently. God wants to hear our prayers. God wants us to ask Him for our needs. God wants us to appreciate that everything we have comes from Him.

Here lies another connection between manna and the snakes. God hates snakes. Snakes caused death and evil to enter the world. This is why God gives the snake tons and tons of free food to eat in the form of dust, which is everywhere: God wants nothing to do with snakes! He is not interested in a relationship with them and he is not interested in their prayers. God’s attitude is “take all the food you want and leave me alone!”

But not so for mankind. God, in His love for us, limits what he gives us sometimes so we will learn to cultivate a relationship with him.

So that my friends is the lesson of the snakes and the lesson of the manna: God wants you to keep in touch with Him!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.