Neither God Nor Humans Can Go It Alone (Joshua 5:2-6:1)

During the children of Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the desert, the holiday of Pesah was celebrated only twice, once in the second year, at the beginning of their journey and once again at the end of the journey just before entering Eretz Yisrael. During this period, the entire nation was maintained miraculously on a diet of manna provided by God. This miraculous nourishment ended with the last Pesah celebration before entering the land, when the people would again be expected to fend for themselves: “On the day after the Passover offering, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain. On that same day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna; that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.” (5:11-12)

This second Pesah represented a transformative moment for the nation. In the desert, God miraculously tended to the people’s needs. The move into the Promised Land represented a break from this total dependence. God’s relationship with His people would now be in the form of a partnership where the people would manage their lives in conjunction with God. In Menorat HaMaor, a famous Sefardic moralistic work from the Middle Ages, Rabbi Yisrael Al Nekaveh, used the above episode as proof for the establishment of the tenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, the weekday standing prayer – the Blessing for a Prosperous Year and the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon (the grace after meals): “And when Joshua brought  Israel into the land, and the manna ceased and they ate what the land produced and there was a need for a blessing for the year, [so] Joshua established for Israel a blessing for the land and on food in Birkat Hamazon, [and] the people. (in turn,) said the blessing over the [prosperity] of the year.” (Menorat HaMaor, Enelow ed. pt. 1 p. 127)

What are we to learn from Al Nekaveh’s interpretation? After the people enter the land, God is not read out of the picture, rather, God remains the source of all blessings and deserves appreciation, but there is discernment that God’s blessings will not come without human involvement. The festival of Pesah, in a sense, reminds us of this divine-human partnership. God has granted us freedom in conjunction with responsibility to establish His world on earth. Neither God nor humans can go it alone, but together…

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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