In this week’s parashah, the Torah continues to relate to us the story of the Children of Israel and their exodus from Egypt. Following the ten plagues, departing the place of their bondage and the drowning of their enemies in the Red Sea, the nation find themselves in the desert, making their way to the Promised Land. Nevertheless, we are immediately brought to the attention that even this reality of wondering in the desert without enemies and bondage is not at all simple. The Nation of Israel constantly find themselves facing many situations of distress and shortage. Many a time they are left without water, they are vulnerable to the attack of snakes and scorpions and the food they have at their disposal falls from the heavens only once a day. They have no idea what tomorrow will bring them and this is only the beginning…
The most astonishing fact of all is that the Torah informs us in no uncertain terms that Hashem is standing behind all this suffering and in actual fact we are talking about a tribulation initiated by Him. It is this fact, which our parashah reveals to us at the incident of Mara. It was at this location that the nation did not find any suitable drinking water, “…There He gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them” (Ex. Ch. 15, Vs. 25). And so too concerning the manna, “…so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching” (ibid, Ch. 16, Vs. 4).
Here we are required to understand the concept of nisayon – trial. The question that needs to be asked is – Why does Hashem require the trials that He institutes? Behold all is known and revealed before Him and He is not in need of tests in order to verify whether a certain person is righteous or not.
One possible answer that we find in the writings of our sages is that Hashem creates these trials in order to give further reward to man and this is in virtue of the fact that he stood to the test that was placed in his path. But this explanation also leaves room for question; if Hashem really wants to give a person a reward, why can He not just simply give it to him immediately, what is the necessity of this peripheral test in order to receive the reward? And even if we say that Hashem requests to test a person so that he will be worthy of the reward as not to receive free gifts, we can still ask in astonishment, why is there a need specifically for a trial bound with so much suffering, (e.g. The prolonged wondering in the desert with all its hardships) just to gratify a person with a reward?
Let us try to suggest another possible explanation, which we can find in the works of the Rambam, “Guide for the Perplexed”, Section 3, Chapter 24. The Rambam maintains that the trial, in the manner and place where it is carried out, is a deed that is worthy and suited exactly for the person and the specific situation where it takes place. According to this understanding, the Rambam maintains that the trials were appropriate and necessary for the Nation of Israel based on the physical and spiritual level they were on. Upon the exodus from Egypt, the nation was nothing more than a conglomeration of slaves who had just recently left their place of bondage and their physical and spiritual capabilities were at the lowest ebb. According to the Rambam, the purpose of the trials, which the nation endured in the desert, was in order to prepare them to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” in the landof Israel. To this purpose, there awakens an urgent need to toughen them up so that they will be prepared for the battles expected of them upon entering the land, as well as for the spiritual challenges that await them there. According to the Rambam, this is exactly the reason for the trials that they were exposed to in the desert, “Ease destroys bravery, whilst trouble and care for food create strength; and this was [also for the Israelites] the good that ultimately came out of their wanderings in the wilderness.”
The Rambam even relates to the spiritual contribution of the trials, “Let every one who desires try and see whether it is useful and sufficient to devote himself to the service of God.” I.e., the purpose of suffering in the desert was to direct the thoughts and beliefs of the Nation of Israel to the Holy One Blessed be He. And with a constant lack of food and water and a constant battle against dangers, without concrete knowledge to where one is going – one has no choice but to believe in Hashem his creator.
We see here another possibility in understanding the benefit and the intention of the concept of trial. The purpose of the trial is not to endow reward for the next world; rather it is necessary in this world. The trial is intended to fulfill and uplift the person, to remove him from the hardship to which he is bound and to bring him to a suitable spiritual level. To this purpose, it is understood, that without trial a person would not be able to reach and complete his intended purpose in life in the desired and appropriate manner required by Hashem.
At this point, we will also remark that in Hebrew the word trial does not only mean to test, rather also to raise and to uplift, from the word lenoses. The word nes can also mean banner – i.e. something that is significant and important. May it be His will that we may all raise ourselves up high so that we will not be in need for trials, and thus fulfill the words of our sages, “do not bring us to the need for trial”!