Hashem tested Bnei Yisrael in the desert. The tests went both ways. Hashem was testing B’nei Yisrael to develop their sense of faith and trust in Him. The people tested Hashem as a child would test a parent. The beginning of the story of the Exodus produced the initial test of the mannah. Moshe told them that every day (except Shabbat) there will be mannah descending like dew from heaven which will sustain the people. Rav Ovadiah Bartenura wrote that the initial test that Hashem gave the people was in telling them “don’t go out” and yet they did go out. They were further told “do not leave over to the next day” and they did that as well. The only way they could pass the test of the mannah was for Hashem to extend the test. As it turned out, that is exactly what did occur and over the forty year period there were no problems. The people got used to the test of the mannah. The entire forty year period could be understood in this fashion. It is not only that they were being punished for the sin of the spies; it was also that by being under Hashem’s protection in every physical way they learned to trust Hashem. On the eve of their entry into the Promised Land Moshe understood that the conditions under which this new generation was raised would change drastically, and unfortunately the people would fail the future tests. Moshe knew this and spoke about it in today’s Parsha and throughout the Chumash of Devarim.
The Torah gives us the list of the seven fruits with which Eretz Yisrael is blessed (8:8) “a land of wheat and barley… a land of olives that produce oil, and honey.” It is interesting to note that the Torah says that olive oil is one of the blessed fruits of Eretz Yisrael. Why not state that it is the olive? Why mention olive oil? The Talmud posits that olives are not to be considered as beneficial to the human being as olive oil is. The Talmud even suggests that eating olives is detrimental to one’s memory. When praising the land of Israel, the Torah used the most useful forms of the produce of the land. It is of note that for many years Israel was an exporter of olives. This was true in the Roman period 2,000 year ago. Rome was actually importing olives from Israel and they could be found sold in the marketplaces in Rome. This is bizarre considering that Italy is a major producer of olive oil in the modern period. But in ancient times this was obviously not so. As it turned out, this was not always a major blessing as it was economically. Because of the trade agreement the Romans had, ships were coming to Israel for economic trade as in olive oil and olives, and became knowledgeable of the geography and topography of the land of Israel, which proved helpful when the Romans invaded and conquered the land in the 1st century C.E.
Moshe says that the people will be blessed with a great amount of gold and silver (8:13). A wealthy Jew once boasted to the Chofetz Chaim that Hashem had granted him all his desires and he lacked no worldly pleasures. The Chofetz Chaim said that if that was the case, he should devote a number of hours every day to Torah study. The man replied that he had no time. Said the Chofetz Chaim, “If that is the case then you are like the poorest of the poor. If you have no time, then what have you? There is no poorer man than one who is lacking time…” It is recorded that a man came to the Vilna Gaon and said to him, “Rebbe, I have only ten minutes free. Should I learn Talmud or should I learn Mussar (moral instruction)?” The Vilna Gaon responded that he should learn Mussar because after ten minutes of Mussar he would realize that he did have a lot more than ten minutes of his time. Whenever God blesses us there is always an ability that we should have to improve upon it and not be enslaved to it.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום
Rabbi David Grossman