When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat." - Exodus 16:15
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.
This week we read about manna, the miraculous food that fell from heaven each morning in the desert, providing the children of Israel with their daily needs. Do you know how manna got its name? On the very first morning that the manna appeared, the Israelites were puzzled: ". . . they said to each other, What is it?'" In the original Hebrew, they said, "man hu?" which means "what is it?" Moses explained that this was the special bread sent to them from God. Since it never existed before, it needed a name. They decided on hu man, meaning "it is manna."
According to Jewish tradition, man, manna in English, could taste like whatever the Israelites wanted it to taste like. If they wanted it to taste like steak, they tasted steak. If they wanted apples, they tasted apples. It always looked the same, but the taste could be anything.
Based on this idea, the Jewish sages offer the following teaching. God sends us things from heaven every single day. They come in the form of events that happen, people we meet, the weather, and so forth. Everything comes from God. We can ask like the Israelites, "What is it?" Is it good or is it bad? Will it help me or will it hurt me? The answer is, "Whatever you decide." Just as the Israelites could decide what the manna would taste like, so, too, do we get to decide how we will experience what occurs to us in life.
What a powerful lesson! It's not what happens to us in life; it's how we decide to interpret what happens to us. If we are determined that all is for the best, then all will be for the best. If we make up our mind that our life is terrible, then we will experience a life that is terrible. It's up to us to decide.
The sages explain with an analogy. There was once a merchant with a sack of odd-looking rocks. He decided that they weren't worth much and was about to dump them out when someone offered to buy them. He sold them for next to nothing. The next day, he saw the man who bought the rocks selling a magnificent necklace made up of those very same odd rocks, only now they seemed rare and exquisite! Now he saw how amazing those rocks really were.
It's all in how we decide to see things in our lives. I want to encourage us all to see everything as good. Whatever God sends our way is a blessing, even if in disguise. The next time something comes out of left field and you are left asking, "What is this?" make sure to answer, "It is good."
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President