There’s a Pareto principle in divrei Torah: 80% of them are based on the first aliyah. I’ll try to be more broad than that, but I am going to start in ראשון:
What is the lesson that ה׳ is teaching us with the מן? It was a miraculous food, satisfying and leaving no residue, tasting like whatever one wanted. How could the פסוק say that ה׳ starved us? The answer clearly is that the מן couldn’t be saved. The Jews had to go out every morning to get that day’s rations. They felt their dependence on ה׳ directly and immediately. But why did they need that lesson?
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (an early chassidic master, cited in Praying with Fire 1) questions the punishment of the snake in גן עדן: (בראשית ג:יד) ויאמר ה׳ אלקים אל הנחש כי עשית זאת ארור אתה מכל הבהמה ומכל חית השדה; על גחנך תלך ועפר תאכל כל ימי חייך׃. What kind of punishment is this? Dust may not taste good but it is omnipresent; ה׳ is telling the snake that it will never go hungry, never have to look for food.
But having that lack forces us to look to ה׳, to daven, to establish a relationship with הקב״ה that we would not have if everything was easy. Giving your kids a credit card and never talking to them does not make for a healthy parent-child relationship. Telling the snake, “Go eat anything; I don’t want to hear from you” was in truth a terrible punishment.
The lesson of the מן, then, is both that we depend on ה׳ and that he wants to hear from us, to hear our prayers.
But still, how does it apply here? ספר דברים is Moshe’s final addresses to the Jews, outlining how they will have to live in the Land of Israel. The מן will stop, and the immediate realization of their dependence will end when they start farming and growing their own food.
Moshe realizes this and exhorts them not to forget:
But in truth, the lesson still remains in ארץ ישראל, even in the absence of the מן:
Egypt has a river that floods every year, like clockwork, fed by the melting snows of the mountains down south. There is no praying for rain, since rain isn’t necessary. They operate on the snake-in-the-dust model and have feeling of dependence on the mercy of a higher Power. Israel, on the other hand, feels its dependency. Life can either be easier than Egypt if the rain is plentiful (you don’t even need to lift your foot; G-d does the irrigation) or infinitely harder.
This contrast is made even more starkly in בראשית:
Lot sees that the Jordan valley at the time (before the “creation” of the Dead Sea) is similar to Egypt: river-watered, not requiring ה׳'s active intervention. Of course, the people demonstrate the consequences of that separation from ה׳: they are the people of Sodom.
But what is the mention of גן ה׳?
So גן עדן was river-fed. Isn’t Eden what we want? Isn’t that the goal, to return to that original state? Why is it presented so negatively?
The answer is that everyone is dependent on ה׳, even in Egypt where the flood of the Nile seems to be automatic. If we can maintain that attitude toward ה׳ and not take everything we have for granted, and if we can continue to pray to ה׳ for our needs even when it seems we have no need to pray, then there is no reason to make it difficult, and a return to the ease of Eden is possible.
We see that in the haftorah:
Going back to our parasha, notice that it says תמיד עיני ה׳ אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה. This is the only place in the Torah that portrays ראש השנה as יום הדין. ראש השנה is the day that ה׳ decides how much rain we deserve. And one of the hardest parts of our job, in these weeks leading up to ראש השנה, is to see and acknowledge that dependence. We aren’t farmers; we take the well-stocked shelves of Schnucks for granted. But we need to realize that even with modern technology, ה׳ has the power to make נהרות מדבר or מדברה כעדן and His response depends on our behavior.