During the week-long festival of Succot, we are commanded to reside in temporary dwellings covered with cut branches of foliage.
The reason for this is specifically stated in Leviticus 23:43, “Since I [the Lord] housed the Children of Israel in succot [temporary dwellings] when I took them out of Egypt.”
The Torah and the Talmud go into intricate detail regarding all aspects of the succa – its dimensions, its location, the materials used to construct it, etc.
With such emphasis placed on the abode, one almost forgets that there was also special bread eaten in the succa.
This was the manna, which our ancestors ate during their sojourn in the wilderness.
I find it fitting therefore on Succot to reacquaint you with this wondrous, heavenly bread.
The Torah does not elaborate extensively on the physical properties of manna other than to say that it was the size of white coriander seeds, its center resembled the “eye of a crystal,” and it tasted like honey wafers (Numbers 11:7, Exodus 17:31). It was so unlike anything else the Israelites had ever seen before that they asked “Man hu?” (What is it?), hence its name manna.
The manna was not ready to eat when gathered but was more of a raw material for making food. The Israelites ground it into flour or pounded it with mortar and pestle and then cooked it in a pot or baked it into round loaves, like bread.
To fully fathom the true wonder of this bread, one must delve into the midrashic commentaries.
One of the well-known attributes of the manna was that it could taste like anything a person wanted it to. If you wanted roast beef for dinner, it tasted like roast beef. If you wanted falafel, it would unfailingly oblige.
What are less commonly known are manna’s nutritional properties – it was perfectly nutritious. Unlike our food of today, which has a tendency to be stored in our bodies (as fat), manna was fully absorbed by the digestive system, automatically adjusting to each individual’s calorie requirements, not accumulating as storage and leaving no waste. The Israelites had no need for dieting or even going to the bathroom.
The manna also came with free delivery to their door, as it were. Each morning, the Children of Israel would find it fresh on their doorsteps, wrapped in a double layer of dew.
Manna had no added chemicals or preservatives. It appeared fresh daily and if not eaten that day, it would spoil.
The only exception was Shabbat, when the manna did not appear. Each household would gather a double portion of manna on Fridays to suffice also for Shabbat.
It is almost incomprehensible that with this divinely blessed food in abundant supply, some Israelites saw fit to complain that they longed for meat and the other “delights” of the fleshpots of Egypt.
It is also interesting to note a parallel between the manna and a midrashic description of the food eaten by Adam in the Garden of Eden, also resembling honey wafers. According to some commentaries, Adam and Eve’s sin was not that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge but that they saw fit to tamper with its fruit (grinding, kneading into dough and baking) instead of eating it in the original form that God had created. For this mankind was cursed to eternally toil by the sweat of his brow to eat his daily bread.
It is impossible to fully grasp the true nature of the manna or even attempt to reconstruct it today. Maybe that is why it is absent from our Succot ritual.
Perhaps the only thing that we can do today to commemorate the manna is to learn the lesson of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and the manna throughout our lives but especially on Succot. We should not tamper with the food God has given us! We should instead eat it (as far as possible) in its original, natural form.
How far has modern society strayed from that simple, fundamental lesson. It is almost impossible to find any type of food or beverage that we consume today that has not been tampered with in some way, be it by genetic engineering, processing, preserving, softening, pumping full of air, making more shiny, sweeter, saltier, flavor enhanced – more “real” than real.
Let us then resolve this Succot to express our gratitude to the Lord for our food by eating it as He created it and carry this beyond into our daily lives.
Perhaps in this way we can begin to appreciate the wonders of the Succot bread, the heavenly manna.
(The closest thing I can think of to honey wafers. Makes approximately 15 waffles)
• 2 cups whole-grain flour
• ½ tsp salt
• ¼ cup sugar
• 4 tsp. baking powder
• 2 egg whites
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 cups milk
• ½ cup oil
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat egg whites until stiff. In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks, milk and oil. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in egg whites until well mixed. Bake using a waffle iron.
If you don’t have one, use a grill pan (with ridges) as you would make pancakes. Make sure the waffles are fully cooked before removing them. Drizzle with honey or silan and serve hot.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy artisan baking, and is the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.