07. Manna on Shabbat

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During the forty years that our ancestors wandered in the desert, God provided them with food from heaven. This food was known as man (manna), and through it God taught Israel how they should relate to food and to livelihood. “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion – that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instruction or not” (Shemot 16:4). The test was that they were commanded to gather enough each day for the needs of that day, and not to leave any over for the next day. This was a great challenge, as man’s chief worry in this world is his food and means of livelihood. Because of this existential concern – the fear of death by starvation, of not having clothing and shelter, of being at the mercy of the elements – man has developed a powerful impulse to eat as much as possible and to pursue unlimited accumulation of money and assets. Thus one becomes enslaved to his work and his impulses. God wished to instill in the Israelites, during their desert sojourn, the proper attitude toward livelihood – knowledge that man’s purpose in life is to cling to God and His Torah. Food and money are only a means to this end, as we read: “He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, rather man lives by the word of the Lord” (Devarim 8:3). Therefore they were commanded to gather enough food for one day, and to rely on God to send more the next day. One who failed this test and gathered extra would find when he came to his tent that he had exactly what he needed to eat – “an omer (a biblical measure) per capita.” Some people could not overcome their fear; they saved some of their allotted manna for the next day, but it turned foul and maggoty overnight.

When Friday came, however, there was a surprise:

On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moshe, he said to them, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is the day of rest, the Lord’s holy Shabbat. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moshe had ordered; and it did not turn foul, and there were no maggots in it. Then Moshe said, “Eat it today, for today is the Lord’s Shabbat; you will not find it today in the field. Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, Shabbat, there will be none.” Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. And the Lord said to Moshe, “How long will you refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? Note that the Lord has given you Shabbat; therefore He gives you two days’ food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no man leave his place on the seventh day.” (Shemot 16:22-29)

The Sages stated that the blessing of Shabbat was reflected in the double portion of manna that fell (Bereishit Rabba 11:2). One might be inclined to ask what kind of blessing this was, since, in fact, the amount of manna that the people received on Shabbat was the same as that of the rest of the week; it simply fell a day early. The answer is that on the seventh day they did not have to worry, because their Shabbat food had already been prepared on Friday. This can be compared to one who had to work hard every day. One day he managed to finish two days’ worth of work. The next day he felt a sense of great relief because he did not need to work, and he was free to think about things beyond his immediate needs. Sometimes, because of these musings, he was later able to accomplish more at work. This is the blessing of Shabbat. We are commanded to stop working and stop worrying about money, and through this freedom and liberation we cling to God and His Torah. Doing so will allow blessing to flow from the Source of life, providing us with a comfortable livelihood during the six weekdays.

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