לע”נ ידי”נ הקדוש ר’ ארי פולד ז”ל הי”ד
The resolutions is as follows [based on HaGaon HaGadol Rav Dovid Yitzchak Mann ztz”l]:
Rav Saadiah Gaon proves from the story of Gideon that there is no איסור unless one tests Hashem Himself but there is no איסור to test if a person is worthy of Hashem’s reward for performing his mitzvos [which is what Gideon was doing]. Indeed, the pasuk seems to bear out this understanding. All it says is “לא תנסו את השם” – don’t test Hashem. It mentions nothing about testing Him to see if He will reward mitzva performance [as many of the Rishonim hold]. Why would one think that it is forbidden to test Hashem to see if one is worthy of reward?? That would be less a test of Hashem and more a test of oneself??!
The explanation is that something can only be considered a test if it is supposed to happen. But if something is not expected to happen, why would checking if it happens be considered a test?? Therefore it was a test in the desert to see if Hashem would provide the Jews with water, because after taking us out into the barren desert, Hashem is expected to provide water. That is the meaning of the pasuk לא תנסו את ה’ א-להיכם כאשר ניסיתם במסה – Don’t test Hashem you G-d as you did in מסה [to see if He will give you water]. He was expected to give us water and were “checking Him out” to see if He would make good on the unspoken deal. Otherwise, it is only considered a test in a case where one fulfilled a mitzva, where a reward is expected, and the person waited to see if Hashem would follow through. That is where we see in the pasuk that the איסור is testing Hashem to see if he will reward us. It says “don’t test Him as you did in מסה with the water”, meaning that just like there you were expecting water which qualifies as waiting for the water as a test, so too, when you do mitzvos don’t test Hashem to see if He will reward you. [This explains the opinion of the סמ”ג, יראים and טור that we mentioned in the previous post that the איסור is testing Hashem to see if He will reward mitzvos].
Now we can explain the view of the Rambam: He holds that there is no reward for mitzvos in this world [as we will see בל”נ], so for him the only way we can test Hashem and expect Him to “pass the test” is with respect to verifying the validity of a Navi. Now, once a Navi attained the status of a bona fide Navi, it is no longer necessary to test him. If one does, even though the test is superfluous, there is still an expectation that Hashem will provide the sign and He will pass the test. So according to the Rambam, the היכי תמצי [instance] of testing Hashem when there is an expectation that the test will be passed is with respect to the validity of a Navi.
It emerges that even though practically speaking the person is testing the Navi, at the root the intention is to test Hashem, as the pasuk says “לא תנסו את ה’ אלקיכם”. This would explain why the same Rambam who wrote in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah [10-5] that the איסור is testing a Navi himself to see if he is a נביא אמת, wrote in his preface to the Sefer Hamitzvos [ל”ת ס”ד] that the איסור is to test the word of Hashem [“שלא לנסות דבר ה’ שנאמר לא תנסו את ה’ א-להיכם”]. How do we reconcile this contradiction? Now we know! The external manifestation of the איסור is testing an already proven Navi [or if He will provide water in the desert], but at the root one is testing Hashem, seeing if He is going to provide the expected sign that this person/prophet is the “real deal” [or provide the expected water].
So now the pasuk reads beautifully according to the Rambam:
לא תנסו את ה’ א-להיכם – Don’t test Hashem, כאשר ניסיתם במסה – as you did in מסה when you waited for and expected water, so too you shouldn’t test an already proven Navi, expecting Hashem to give you another sign of his validity.