Parshas Va’eschanan contains a negative mitzvah, a prohibition, articulated in the passuk (Devarim 6:16) “You shall not test Hashem, as you tested Him at Massah.” This refers to the instance recounted in Parshas Beshalach, when B’nei Yisrael tested if Hashem was in their midst by asking for water. What exactly is this issur (prohibition)? Ramban (ibid) explains, “That you shall not say as the Jews said at Massah ‘Is Hashem amongst us,’ to perform miracles for us or so that we will have success when we serve Him, and be well off when we observe His Torah. For this was the intent of the people at Massah, that if they would see that Hashem would miraculously give them water, they would follow Him in the dessert, and if not, they would abandon Him. This was considered a great sin… for after they had already determined that Moshe was the prophet of G-d through many signs and wonders, it was no longer proper to do anything as a test. One who does such a thing is not really testing the prophet; rather, this person is testing Hashem Himself, to find out ‘if the Hand of G-d is limited.’ That is why the Torah forbids us in all generations to put the Torah to a test. For it is not appropriate to serve Hashem in the manner of a person who is unsure or in the manner of requesting a wonder, for it is not Hashem’s will to do miracles at any time for any person….Nor is it appropriate to serve Him on the condition that one receive a reward, but rather with the knowledge that it is possible that one will encounter sufferings and tragedies despite one’s service of Hashem… and it is proper that one accept everything as Hashem’s righteous judgment and not like the fools who say ‘It is useless to worship G-d…’ ‘What gain is there for us that we have kept His ordinances?’… That is why the verse continues and states ‘you shall observe His commandments and His testimonies,’ with testimonies being the mitzvos that serve to commemorate the miracles that He has already done for you (e.g., matzah, succah), and then the verse says, ‘and His decrees,’ meaning, even if you do not understand the reason…there is no need to test Hashem concerning the Torah, for the truth that the Torah is from Hashem has already been established for you….Similarly, do not test His words regarding reward and punishment and do not doubt the omnipotence of Hashem…”

Now, if one reads the Ramban carefully, one sees that he refers to two different types of testing. The first type is not to serve Hashem while asking for proof of His existence or questioning the truth of the Torah. The other kind of testing Hashem is in the sense that one will perhaps only serve Him if good things ensue, but one is not ready for suffering, trials or difficulties.

At first glance, one would think that these are two completely different ideas, both of which are included in this prohibition. However, it is not logical for the Torah to have ‘thrown together’ two such disparate ideas in this manner. Accordingly, we must explore the common thread, the single principle behind both ideas.

The very next passuk (ibid, 17) states, “And you shall do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem, so that it will be good for you and you shall come and inherit the Land… and [Hashem will] thrust away all your enemies from before you.” It seems that the Torah does promise that at the end of the road, so to speak, all will indeed be good. If so, how does this relate to the phrase that precedes it, “and you shall do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem.” Moreover, what does the passuk even mean with this commandment? What does it add to the previous passuk’s demand that we keep the commandments, testimonies, and decrees of Hashem? The Ramban explains, “You shall obey all the mitzvos of Hashem… and when you fulfill them, your sole intention should be to do that which is right and good in His eyes. The phrase stating that it will then be good for you is a promise (not a suggested motivation); that it will be good for you, and since it has been established that the Torah is from Hashem, there is no need to test any of this out, for there is no question as to the omnipotence of Hashem Who has made you this promise… And so, have faith, be steadfast, and you will succeed.

We now have a fresh insight into the meaning of the prohibition to test Hashem, that it is a command to do the mitzvos solely for the sake of performing Hashem’s will; to believe and understand that Hashem has so commanded, that this is indeed His will, and that our sole motivation for doing it should be that it is His will. If we perform the mitzvos in that fashion, we are promised that the reward is sure to come.

This command actually relates to the Ramban’s other interpretation of doing what is right and proper, which is to go beyond the letter of law and to fulfill its spirit; that all of a person’s actions be towards a goal of emulating Hashem in His love for goodness and rectitude.

Ramban explains, “This is a very great concept, for it is impossible for the Torah to make mention of all the modes of behavior in which a person must conduct himself with his fellowman, neighbors, and acquaintances, as well as all the details of business dealings… Rather, the pesukim mention a few of them, and then this passuk states that in a general manner, one should do what is right and good in every situation, not just in the specific cases of which the pesukim speak….Compromising and going beyond the letter of the law are included in this command… it even includes to speak softly with other people… to the point that the person will be considered whole and upright in all situations.”

This general command certainly takes its cue from what the Ramban considers the simple meaning of the passuk, namely, that all that we do be done with the higher goal of performing Hashem’s will. His will, of course, is to be extrapolated from the letter of His laws, and should teach us the spirit in which they are to be done.

Im yirtzeh Hashem next week, we will tie all these threads together, and show how they will guide us the way to climb out of our tzarros (sorrows, travails) and merit the nechamah that we all await.

Nachamu, nachamu, ami