Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” — Exodus 16:4
The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means “when he sent them away,” from Exodus 13:17–17:16, and the Haftorah is from Judges 4:4–5:31.
One month after the Israelites left Egypt, their food ran out. Once again they complained and panicked. And once again, God reassured them and performed miracles on their behalf.
The next day, the children of Israel woke up to find the ground covered in a pearly white substance that would become their food for the next 40 years. The people had never seen such a thing before and they ask, “What is it?” (Exodus 16:14). That’s how the heavenly bread becomes known as manna – Egyptian for “what is it?”
The heaven-sent food was spiritual in nature. Jewish tradition teaches that those who ate the manna became wiser and more insightful. Unlike earthly food, which contains elements that the body can’t use and are therefore excreted, the manna was totally absorbed by the body. There was no waste product.
With this heavenly gift came a challenge: When the manna fell, the Israelites were only allowed to collect what they needed for their family for that day. Storing any leftovers was forbidden. They had to trust that there would be more the next day. In addition, on Fridays, a double portion of manna would fall. Each family was required to take a double portion. No manna would fall on the Sabbath because gathering it would be a desecration of Sabbath law.
The details of the manna teach us three very relevant lessons regarding our sustenance from God. They are lessons that help us cope with lean times and give us much needed perspective in abundant times.
- “What is it?” – God always sustains us, but it’s not always in the ways that we would expect. Sometimes God provides for us in mysterious ways and we say, “What is this? That’s not what I was expecting!” But we have to be open to all of God’s gifts.
- “The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.” While we would all like to have bank accounts swollen enough to last a lifetime, that’s not always how God wants it. Rather, He wants us to rely not on our money, but on Him. So God gives us what we need, but sometimes just one day at a time.
- “Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any” (Exodus 16:26). The Sabbath reminds us that God is the ultimate Creator. We work and create for six days, but then we stop; we recognize that success doesn’t come from our work, but from God’s blessings.
Take a moment and reflect on the teachings of God’s special sustenance. How do these lessons apply to your life today? Think it over – it’s food for thought!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President