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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

As children, we were all captivated by the mouth-watering description which the Midrash presents of the manna, the heavenly food which sustained the Jewish people in the desert for forty years.

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As children, we were all captivated by the mouth-watering description which the Midrash presents of the manna, the heavenly food which sustained the Jewish people in the desert for forty years. It tasted like whatever you wanted - pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, popcorn. We could hardly control our imaginations. However, upon analyzing the section in this week's Torah portion which describes the manna, we are provided with a more grim perspective: "Behold, I shall rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day's portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not" (Exodus 16:4). The manna was not a free ride, nor was it a delightful delicacy which would provide its connoisseurs an extended vacation on which they could enjoy life's finest pleasures. Something was expected from the recipients in return. What was the test of the manna?

Rashi, the great medieval commentator, explains that in exchange for their heavenly gift, the Jewish people were expected to observe the various mitzvot regarding the manna - do not leave any manna over for the next day, and do not go out to gather it on Shabbat. Now, if you were to ask me, that sounds like a pretty good deal. If You are willing to provide me with my daily sustenance, I will be more than happy to follow Your commandments. Outwardly, this does not sound like much of a test. If we are assured that the manna will fall six days a week, and that on Friday there will be a double portion to make up for Shabbat's allotment, what could possibly be the challenge?

Our rabbis tell us that the manner in which Hashem provided for the Jewish people in the desert exemplifies the means by which the Almighty provides for us even today. Just as the daily portion of manna was an absolute and indisputable miracle, so too is our daily income and sustenance a wonder that is directly bestowed upon us by Hashem. Of course the miracle does not manifest itself as clearly today as it did then, but nevertheless without Hashem constantly involving Himself in our livelihood, we would never be able to put bread on our table.

Every person's yearly apportionment is determined on Rosh Hashanah. No amount of extra work can increase that number, while at the same time no amount of "bad luck" can deduct from the portion which Hashem assigns to us. Even life at the end of the twentieth century is patterned after the circumstances which the Jewish people faced in the desert as described by the Torah, "Whoever gathered more [manna] had nothing extra and whoever gathered less was not lacking; everyone according to what he eats had they gathered" (ibid. 16:18).

Developing this level of faith was not a simple task for the generation in the desert. Going to sleep every night, with absolutely no leftovers in the cabinets for the family's breakfast the next morning, must have been an extremely nerve-racking experience. As the candles burned low on Friday night, they had to hope that the special double portion set aside for the next day would not rot, as did every morsel of manna left over on any other weeknight. Indeed, there were those who did not live up to the test. Some chose to leave over some manna for the next morning, and it became infested with worms and rotted. Others sought to gather their portion on Shabbat, only to discover that the manna did not fall on the seventh day of the week. However the vast majority of the nation learned to deal with the anxiety, overcoming their fears and developing their trust in Hashem.

The same test applies to us today, and it is certainly no easier now than it was then. However, the forty years which our ancestors spent in the desert served to implant in our national psyche the realization that everything comes from Hashem, enabling us to arrive at that same recognition even today, thousands of years later, when the miracles are not as apparent.

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The ideas expressed in this article are based upon the writings of Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, the saintly mashgiach (spiritual advisor) of the famed Mir Yeshiva in Lithuania during the first part of this century.

Michael Alterman, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Baltimore.

You are invited to read more Parshat Beshalach articles.

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