Parshat Beshalah – Bread from Heaven

On the periphery of this amazing event, we read about an interesting directive that Moshe Rabbeinu receives from G-d.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Am Yisrael, which just several days earlier had miraculously been liberated from slavery and from Egypt, crosses the Red Sea and arrives at… a desert! As we all know, there is no way to subsist naturally in the desert. The desert lacks water and edible plants are scarce. The nation faced a difficult problem and turns to Moshe Rabbeinu with a complaint: “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt… For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death.” (Exodus 16: 3) The Divine response to the existential distress comes immediately: “Behold! I am going to rain down for you bread from heaven.” (Exodus 16: 4) And then, the wondrous thing happened. Every day, manna rained down from the heaven, feeding the nation during its 40 years in the desert up until its entrance to the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael.
On the periphery of this amazing event, we read about an interesting directive that Moshe Rabbeinu receives from G-d: Moses said, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded: Let one omerful of it be preserved for your generations, in order that they see the bread that I fed you in the desert when I took you out of the land of Egypt. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take one jug and put there an omerful of manna, and deposit it before the Lord to be preserved for your generations.’ As the Lord had commanded Moses, Aaron deposited it before the testimony to be preserved.”
(Exodus 16: 32-34) This jug containing a small amount of manna was placed by Aharon in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Tabernacle adjacent to the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Tables of the Covenant given to Moshe at Mount Sinai.
Many years later, when King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, he moved the Ark into it along with the historic jug.
And why? “In order that they see the bread that I fed you in the desert.”
Why was this important? Why must we remember the amazing wonder that occurred in the desert – the falling of food from heaven? How does that benefit us thousands of years after it happened? Our sages tell us that of the use made by the Prophet Jeremiah of that same jug, approximately 850 years after it was placed in the Holy of Holies: “When Jeremiah said to Israel: ‘Why are you not studying Torah?’ They said to him: ‘How will we support ourselves?’ At that moment, he took out a plate of manna and said to them: ‘Your forefathers who were learned in Torah, see how they supported themselves. So you, too, if you are busy with Torah – the Holy one, blessed be He, will support you!’ (Mechilta for Parshat Beshalah) What did Jeremiah mean by this? Did he really want people to stop working to support themselves and rely on bread to fall from heaven? The Torah is full of descriptions, directives and guides for the working man, so it is impossible to say that the correct path is to sit and wait for manna to suddenly appear.
Jeremiah turned to his generation and asked: “After a full day of work, why do you not dedicate time to daily Torah study?” The Jews he spoke with answered that they prefer to use this precious time, which he wanted them to dedicate to Torah study, to get in one more hour of work. Seemingly, this was a logical claim.
But Jeremiah took out the jug of manna preserved in the Holy of Holies and reminded them of the amazing wonder of the manna falling from heaven during the nation’s time in the desert. Thus, he wished to prove to them that even when we are not in the desert, and we have the opportunity to work and respectably support ourselves, we are still not sustaining ourselves. The fact is that many people work long days and try to earn their bread respectably, but are unsuccessful. On the other hand, many do succeed at their work. This phenomenon teaches us that indeed, we work and try to succeed, but success is not in our hands. It is dependent on many factors that are not in our control.
How, therefore, can we attain this longed-for success? If we dedicate at least a little bit of time every day to studying Torah, and to introspection, we will merit special treatment by those adjacent to G-d’s table, and then we will surely see blessing in our work.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.