Manna in the Present Era

The1 Rebbe Maharash would say that even today, in the era of exile, our sustenance descends like manna from heaven. True in our time, G‑d’s Providence is not evident: His veils of self-concealment prevent us from appreciating the workings of His hand. Thus, on the verse,2 “He works miracles alone,” the Sages comment that3 “the person to whom a miracle occurs does not recognize it.” Nevertheless, this lack of awareness does not detract from the wondrous Providence being revealed from above.

Perhaps the area in which this motif is most evident is the challenge of earning a livelihood. In the present era, we often do not perceive His Providence. Indeed, it can appear that our sustenance depends on the chance occurrences of the natural order. And yet, a closer look reveals how it is specifically in the era of exile that the transcendent dimension of G‑d’s Providence is expressed. In the era of the Beis HaMikdash, G‑dly blessings flowed through the medium of nature. Hence it was then possible for a person to think that he could rely on natural conduits for his livelihood. In exile, by contrast, the blessings of success are not evident in the natural order. Thus, paradoxically, it is the seemingly haphazard turns of fortune characterizing our times that disclose the workings of a Higher Power.

In Step with G‑d’s Providence

Our appreciation of the miraculous undercurrent that runs through the world at large should evoke a corresponding approach in our own conduct. In that vein, the Rebbe Maharash would say: “When confronted by an obstacle, the ordinary approach is to try to crawl under it, and if you can’t crawl under it, you try to climb over it. But I say, Lechat’chilah ariber: one’s initial response should be to climb over!”

The Rebbe Maharash’s intent is that a person should not rethink and adjust his spiritual goals because of challenges that arise. Instead, he should focus on his mission and purpose and know that his objectives are realizable. If he sets out to achieve them with a sincere commitment and the necessary energy and vigor, all the material means to attain them will be granted from Above.

This is not an abstract argument, but a directive for day-to-day realities. When one’s income becomes constrained, a person’s natural tendency is to tighten his belt. He takes out pen and paper, calculates his income and expenses, and projects a balance. Simultaneously, however, he should realize that there are things that are not in that balance. As our Sages say,4 “A man’s entire livelihood is determined at the time of Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur, with two exceptions: the expenses made in honor of Shabbosos and the festivals, and the expenses one makes for his sons’ Torah study.” This concept can be extended to the Torah and its mitzvos as a whole: the constraints the world appears to present will not in truth prevent one from achieving the objectives of his Divine service.

According to the commonsense approach, the key to peace of mind and a life that is free of tension is — living within one’s means. Our Rebbeim, however, taught that peace of mind comes through carrying out the mission a person was charged with from Above. And one when focuses on his mission of disseminating the Torah and the wellsprings of Chassidus, he should not feel constrained. Instead, his approach should be Lechat’chilah ariber: the initial response should be to climb over.

Feet on the Ground

In Chassidus, the Kabbalisticconcepts of Tohu and Tikkun are described at length. The state of being called Tikkun, a state of rectification,is a gestalt in which the raw, dynamic energy known as oros (lit., “lights”) is constrained, being enclothed in keilim (lit., “vessels”) that are substantial. By contrast, the state of being called Tohu (“chaos”) was characterized by intense lights whose vessels were not formidable enough to discipline them. And the prophet describes G‑d’s motive in creating the world in these words:5 “He did not create it for chaos; rather, He formed it for the sake of stability.” This objective is associated by our Sages6 with the cosmic goal of tikkun olam, “the rectification of the world.”

To relate these concepts to the above discussion: When a person focusing on his mission detects an obstacle, but concentrates on his objective undaunted, he can overcome the challenge. Even if hills and mountains stand in his way, he can vault over them. In doing so, however, there must be a fundamental tether to reality. He should not float in the heavens.

There are those who mistake the directive of Lechat’chilah ariber and act recklessly, taking on debts far beyond their capacity. Doing so is not Lechat’chilah ariber, but Tohu. And the result of Tohu, to borrow the Kabbalistic metaphor, was “the shattering of the vessels.” A world created in such a way could not survive, because it could not accommodate such intense energy, unchecked.

Rather, a man’s appreciation of his mission has to be realistic. He must choose concrete goals and set out to achieve them. If an obstacle arises, he should not feel constrained, but should rise above his limitations and in that way, overcome their challenge — but the goals, the obstacles, his limitations, and his rising above them must all conform to the principle that G‑d “formed [the world] for the sake of stability.” In that way, his mission will lead to tikkun olam, “rectifying the world.”

Giving free rein to the boundless energies of Tohu is not G‑d’s goal in creation. Rather, those energies must be bridled by the broad-based approach of Tikkun. In this way, our finite world can become a dwelling for G‑d, a place in which His infinity can become manifest.7