This Shabbos we read Parshas Beshalach. In the Parsha we learn about the miraculous food that sustained the Jewish people for their 40 years of travel in the desert, the Manna. This food came down from the Heaven every morning, providing the Jews with the sustenance that they needed to live. Hashem told Moses to take a container of this Manna and put it in the Tabernacle (later to be in the Temple) so that the Jews could always see the Manna that Hashem fed them in the desert. (Exodus 16:33) What was the point of Jews in later times being able to see the Manna? Was Hashem telling us that we would have Manna come from Heaven at later times? If not, what lesson were we being taught?
The Manna provided us with some very essential lessons to be able to live as a Jew. First of all, we were not allowed to leave over any Manna from one day to the next. Anything that was left over became wormy. (Exodus 16:20-21) Every day the Jews had to gather their food to survive from scratch. Why was this so? Why couldn’t a person have the peace of mind to feel that he already has what he needs for the next day?
The Medrash answers with a powerful analogy. There was a wealthy person who supported his children. He found that if he gave them food for a month at a time, he heard from them once a month. If he gave them food once a week, he heard from them once a week. If he gave them food every day, he heard from them daily. So too, Hashem wanted us to constantly recognize that we need Him for our sustenance and survival. He therefore made it that the Manna was needed freshly every day so we would realize daily that we must turn to Him and pray to Him. This was one of the lessons that we were left with for eternity – to have us realize that our challenges in earning a living and supporting a family are deliberate – so we will realize that we are dependant on Hashem and turn to Him.
Another fascinating fact of the Manna was that no one had extra or not enough – each person came back home from gathering it, and no matter how much they had taken, everyone was left with the same amount of manna per person. (Exodus 16:18) This was a miracle, and the lesson again was very important. No matter what we do in order to make money, at the end of the day we will be left with exactly the amount that Hashem wants us to have. If we think of doing something wrong to make some extra money, whether it is taking money from someone, cheating, lying, or doing something in any other fashion, the manna taught us a lesson that hopefully we can carry to our own lives: At the end of the day, no one ends up with more than they are supposed to. Money gained by fraud can be quickly eaten up with sudden car repairs; home bills; medical bills, or other expenses. Even if we end up with money that we feel is we managed to gain by “cheating”, who knows if we would have just gotten the same money in a permitted way if we would have been more patient? This is a second lesson that the manna taught us, that is relevant and applicable to this day.
Finally, a third lesson was that the manna never fell on Shabbos. On Friday we received a double portion, and that lasted for Shabbos. (Exodus 16:22-27) This is why to this day we have 2 Challahs, (breads) at the Shabbos table. The obvious lesson was the firm belief that no matter what opportunities may present themselves to earn money on Shabbos, we must not compromise the Shabbos. Hashem will make sure that our needs are met without working on Shabbos.
There are more ideas taught by the manna, but we can appreciate now why it was so important for Jews throughout history to be able to see and learn from the manna. Although the manna may have physically only come down for forty years, it lessons are eternal.