Parshas Beshalach: Of Manna and Miracles

This week’s Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandfather’s daughter, Devora bas Yitzchak a’h HY”D, who was born in Poland in 1941, R”L, the week of Parshas Beshalach.  She was named Devora for the weekly haftorah of Beshalach, after the prophetess Devora.  One child of 1.5 million who were murdered al kiddush Hashem, innocent in life and pure in death.  May her memory be for a blessing. 

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Beshalach, the newly freed Israelite nation finds itself facing the trials of desert life.  First, the Egyptian army chases after the nation, led by Pharaoh who has had a change of heart and wants his slaves back.  Then the people travel for days without water.  Then they travel longing for food, remembering the flesh pots and bread they ate to satiation in Egypt!  As if!  And as the parsha closes, they face an attack by our arch enemy, Amalek.

In regard to the threat of the pursuing Egyptians, G-d splits the Reed Sea, and the people pass through the sea on damp land, while the Egyptians drown in the churning waters behind them.

In regard to the lack of drinkable water, G-d instructs Moshe to throw a tree into the bitter waters and they will become sweet; the people will have fresh, palatable water to drink.

In regard to the lack of meat, G-d sends the selav (a type of quail), and in regard to the lack of bread, Hashem sends down manna from heaven, which will ultimately sustain them for their forty years of desert wanderings.

And in regard to the battle with Amalek, Moshe, Aharon and Chur (Miriam’s son) pray, while Yehoshua leads the people in battle.

The trials of desert life are real and daunting, yet the nation quickly learns that nothing is beyond Hashem, His reach and His ability to save His people. 

In regard to the manna, the pasuk says: זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ: עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת, מִסְפַּר נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם–אִישׁ לַאֲשֶׁר בְּאָהֳלוֹ, תִּקָּחוּ – This is what G-d has commanded: Gather from it (the manna) for every man, according to what he eats – an omer (measurement) per person – according to the number of your people, everyone according to whoever is in his tent shall you take (Shemos 16:16). 

R’ S. R. Hirsch writes (ibid), “They were to gather it, each man according to the needs of his household, according to the number of souls, one omer for each person.  If, at the time when the manna melted away, some had gathered more than the correct amount, and some had gathered less, nevertheless, when they came to measure it, it was found that he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered (only) as much as they needed to eat.

“However, the intention to gather the appropriate quantity was apparently an essential, indispensable condition; otherwise, after the first experience, they needed not have bothered to gather more than a minimal amount, since, in any case, everyone would receive what he needed, and certainly no more than his share.

“In this lay the important lesson on the value of working hard while relying on the blessing of Providence in seeking a livelihood for oneself and one’s family.” 

The gathering of the manna teaches a fundamental lesson for generations.  Whether we are facing the trials of the desert or the trials of the city, whether we gather manna with the morning light or shop for our provisions in the supermarket, whether we are the Israelites of antiquity or the Jews of today… Providence requires us to put forth our effort to help ourselves.  And yet – excess hishtadlus (effort, toil, trying) will yield no more than that which G-d decrees we are destined to have. 

Perhaps this is why the falling of the manna was intertwined with so many laws and lessons regarding Shabbos (see Shemos 16).  The Torah is teaching us that no matter how much extra we “gather” and no matter how many extra hours we work, our efforts will not yield greater bounty if G-d does not will it.

Hence, the laws of Shabbos are introduced with the manna.  For it is a great myth and deception to believe that desecrating the holy day of Shabbos, to gather more, to work more, to amass more, will yield results.  On the contrary, going against the will of G-d will only be detrimental and never beneficial. 

In regard to our verse (16:16) זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ: עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת, מִסְפַּר נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם–אִישׁ לַאֲשֶׁר בְּאָהֳלוֹ, תִּקָּחוּ

The Ba’al Ha’Turim fascinatingly teaches: בזה הפסוק יש כל אלפ”א ביתא לומר לך כל המקיים את התורה מזמין לו ה’ פרנסתו בלא טורח כאוכלי המן – This verse contains all the letters of the alef-beis (Hebrew alpha-bet), to teach you that whoever keeps the Torah (which was written with the 22 letters of the alef-beis), Hashem provides his livelihood for him without difficulty, as (He provided) for those who ate the manna

There are only two verses in the entire Five Books of Torah that contain every letter of the alef-beis; and this is one of them (the other is Devarim 4:34). 

For one who gathers, one who works, one who lives, one who behaves, as G-d commanded, according to what he eats and what he needs, for he and his family, is one who lives with the reality that all of his sustenance – material, familial, social – is a gift of Providence.  This is the truest realization of the Divine Presence in our lives.  And when we live by this truism, and gather with faith, it is as if we have kept the Torah from A to Z; or in our case, from Alef to Taf.

A talmid (student) once confided in R’ Mordechai Gifter zt’l (1915-2001, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivas Telz, Cleveland) that he was worried about earning enough money to support a family.  R’ Gifter told this boy about his own life story, including the difficulties he had supporting his family.  The Rosh Yeshiva said to the worried student, “Without trust in Hashem, I would not even have a loaf of bread on my table” (Rav Gifter, Artscroll, p.205).

May we merit the koach (strength), wisdom and desire to put forth our necessary hishtadlus, the clarity to know when enough is enough, and the faith and trust to know that, ultimately, all that we have is akin to manna from heaven – sustenance from the Merciful One Above.

בברכת מנוחת הנפש ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Sharon
    Posted at 08:48h, 25 January

    Beautiful Reading in airport…)