For the duration of Israel’s sojourn in the desert, heavenly manna rained daily for the Israeli camp, save for on Shabbos. None of this divine food was permitted to be left overnight, with the exception of Friday night. There was another deviation to this law. Hashem instructed Moshe, take a measure of manna place it in a jug as a preserved memory for future generations; in order that they should see the bread that they were fed when they departed Mitzrayim.
Rashi comments: In the days of Yirmiyahu he rebuked them “Why do you not toil in the Torah?”
They responded “Shall we put aside our work and engage in the Torah? From what will we support ourselves?”
Yirmiyahu took out the jug of manna and said to them: “See the word of the Hashem, with this your ancestors supported themselves, Hashem has many agents to prepare sustenance for those who fear Him”.
The Torah surely values work and industry. In fact there is a specific law which was developed because of the importance attached to intense labor:
If one steals a sheep or goat and subsequently slaughters the animal, on conviction he repays four times the original value, but if it was an ox that he appropriated and slaughtered, the thief has to repay five times its financial worth. Why?
Rabbi Meir explains: Come and see how great the power of work is, for the theft of a bull, which caused the owner a loss of work, he has to pay five times, for the theft of a lamb however which did not cause loss of labor, the thief pays four times.
So what is meant by the prophet’s admonition, and his proof from the vial of manna? It seems easier to identify with the response of the people “Shall we put aside our work and engage in the Torah? From what will we support ourselves?”
Yirmiyahu did not come to the masses and chastise the people “Why are you working”. He was not at all concerned by the industry of the populace. Judging by the question he posed there was a different issue at stake. He queried them “Why are you not studying”. This translates that he was not troubled by what they were doing, he was bothered by what they were not doing. He opined that the two pursuits, labor and Torah study are able to be achieved concurrently. This has been underscored throughout our history with many of the sages being referred to by their occupations: Rabbi Yochanan the Sandal-maker, Rabbi Yitzchak the Blacksmith. These people were professionals and scholars.
The people disagreed. They responded “Shall we put aside our work and engage in the Torah? From what will we support ourselves?” The prevailing belief among the populace was that the two are incompatible occupations, either we study Torah or we work, but we cannot do both. And being that we have to choose between the two, it is elementary that exerting ourselves to exist takes precedence.
Yirmiyahu was unimpressed. He resorted to accompanying his statements with a visual aid and to this end extracted the manna stored for prosperity in the Beis Hamikdash. I can accept said Yirmiyahu that you feel unable to accomplish two undertakings and you are in position have to make a choice because you cannot achieve both. That is fine, but then Torah comes first. As to your question how will we support ourselves “Hashem has many agents to prepare sustenance for those who fear Him”.
Rabbi Moshe Alshich, (1508–1593), known as the Alshich Hakadosh, was born in the Ottoman Empire and later moved to Tzefas where he studied under Rabbi Yosef Karo author of the Shulchan Aruch. The Alshich was a prominent Rabbi, preacher, and is famous for his Biblical commentaries.
The Alshich was once giving a Shiur, where he informed the participants that if an individual has complete trust in Hashem to provide sustenance, he will have to make little efforts of his own. A poor wagon driver was in attendance and he thought to himself, I must be mad working myself to the bone for a few pennies, why work so hard if Hashem can take care of everything.
The very next day, he sat in Shul all day reading Tehillim. There was no purpose in him owning his wagon and donkey and he sold them to his gentile neighbor. After a few weeks his wife begged him to reconsider as there was no food left in the house. The poor man was unbudgeable as he trusted in the Alshich’s statement and saw no reason to over exert himself in seeking a livelihood, when he could engage in spiritual pursuits.
Meanwhile the new owner took his new his wagon and donkey, that he purchased from the Jew to an area where he had stashed a large treasure. After digging the soil and exposing the treasure he loaded the casket onto the wagon. When he had finished packing the wagon, he collapsed and died. The donkey waited patiently in vain for its master. Towards evening in need of food and shelter the animal made it’s way home to his original owner, the poor Jew. When the news was revealed a few days later that the gentile had died with no apparent heirs, the former wagon driver was free to keep the money, instantly becoming a wealthy man and both he and his family were ecstatic at the abundant riches.
Another student seeing the success of the wagon driver tried to imitate him, and he too sat in the Beis Hamidrash all day. The new diligent student was hoping to copy his fellow’s formula for wealth. After a while when he was evidently unsuccessful at this endeavor, he went to the Alshich to discuss his failure. Why had no wagon and donkey laden with riches been made available to him?
The Alshich kindly explained to the second student the difference between him and the wagon driver. “He” said the Alshich “trusted in Hashem to provide him with food. You on the other hand were waiting for the donkey”.