Parshat Beshalach

By Rabbi Robin Hoffman Foonberg, ’13

The Daily Practice of Collecting Manna

The children of Israel, unsuited in many ways for their new experience of freedom, found themselves still dependent upon the aid of those more powerful than themselves. Therefore, they pleaded with Moses and G-d for food and drink while they sojourned in the wilderness. While G-d was displeased over their complaining and grumblings, He nevertheless granted them their wishes and sustained them with water and manna. Manna was a mysterious white substance that fell from the heavens and became food for the Israelites. But, the manna came with rules and restrictions which the infantile Israelites had to learn and obey each and every day.

According to Ibn Ezra, the miracle of the manna was the greatest miracle of all as it lasted 40 years and was not just a one-time event. But furthermore, Ibn Ezra explains, the miracle of the manna was really ten miracles wrapped into one: 1) the manna fell; 2) it fell only around the Israelite camp; 3) the fall of manna traveled along with the Israelites; 4) the manna they did not gather melted in the sun, but the manna they gathered did not; 5) no matter how much they gathered, everyone had the same amount; 6) a double amount fell on Fridays; 7) what fell on Friday did not spoil for an extra night and day; 8 ) and 9) the two miraculous tastes, like wafers with honey before it was cooked and like rich cream afterward; and 10) the jar of it kept throughout the ages did not spoil.

The rabbis wondered about this daily miracle of manna. Why did G-d rain down the manna each and every day instead of giving it to the Israelites one day to last for a week? The Midrash explains:

There were good reasons for not exceeding a day’s ration in the daily downpour of manna. First, that they might be spared the need of carrying it on their wanderings; secondly, that they might daily receive it hot; and, lastly, that they might day by day depend upon G-d’s aid, and in this way exercise themselves in faith.

(Legend of the Jews, p. 365)

Perhaps then, the greatest miracle and lesson of the manna was that it was a daily experience. Each and every day, the Israelites had to make it their ritual, their practice, to go out and collect for themselves and for their families. Surely this was a matter of survival and it may have felt to the newly freed Israelite slaves as if they were being enslaved by G-d by having to collect the manna each day. But this was also the beginning of G-d’s teaching the Israelites that their faith was to be a daily practice. They weren’t just being told what to do for the benefit of the one in charge, but rather it was for them – a practice that helped their own lives become better lives. The manna was a gift for which they could feel grateful. It is here, with the daily collection of manna, that we understand that our Judaism is a gift and for it to be truly meaningful, our practice of prayer and mitzvot must happen each and every day. Manna is still falling from heaven every day and every day is an opportunity to express our gratitude for the miraculous blessings of our own lives.