Parshas Beshalach offers many topics to speak about. From the splitting of the Red Sea to the Shirah to the beginning of the Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert, this parshah is full of famous stories and Divrei Torah. This week I would like to discuss the only topic I did not mention in the last sentence, the מן (Manna). Though its name identifies it simply as “food”, the manna was anything but simple.
The pesukim themselves as well as the midrashim on the parshah list the many miracles that surrounded the מן. First off, the manna was delivered straight from the sky to your doorstep each morning covered with a layer of dew on top and bottom of it for protection. The medrash adds that depending on how righteous the person was, the manna would be left closer or farther from your door. (This allowed people to judge themselves every day[!] and see where they were holding.) While the pasuk tells us that it tasted like dough fried in honey, the medrash tells us that the manna could acquire the taste of whatever food you desired it to taste like. Another miracle was that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to collect only enough for an omer (approx. 3.64 liters) per person. The pasuk relates that no matter how much a person collected, when the manna was measured later it always came out to exactly an omer per person.
Another miracle was that if the manna was left overnight, by the next morning it had rotted. This miracle in particular can help us understand what the whole purpose of the מן was. The מן in general is very important to understand; if this is what Hashem decided we should eat in the desert, there must be a lesson for us wrapped up in its texture, taste, and portion size. The pasuk describes the purpose of the מן as, “…וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ לְמַעַן אֲנַסֶּנּוּ הֲיֵלֵךְ בְּתוֹרָתִי אִם לֹא” “…and the people should go out and gather what they need for the day, so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching.” (Shemos 16:4). Rashi explains that the test here is to see if Bnei Yisrael will listen to the obligations that came with the manna, namely, not to leave any of the מן overnight and not to collect it on Shabbos.
The Kli Yakar explains Rashi further and says that these restrictions were supposed to test the level of ביטחון of the Bnei Yisrael. Someone who knows that he has food for the next day has no fear of starvation and therefore does not feel the need to save the manna for the next day. Also, Bnei Yisrael received a double portion of manna on Friday so they would not need to collect on Shabbos which went against the normal policy of not collecting more than they needed for one day. Because of this, there were people who thought they would still have to go out and collect manna on Shabbos. However, someone who trusted Hashem believed Moshe when he said that the food would last for two days. By giving them מן every day, Hashem could measure the level of ביטחון Bnei Yisrael had constantly.
The Ramban brings down a Gemarah in Yoma (75b) which explains the deeper significance of the manna. The pasuk in Tehillim describes the manna as, “לחם אבירים אכל איש” “Humans ate the bread of angels” (Psalms 78:25). R’ Akiva and R’ Yishmael learn this verse differently. R’ Akiva explains it simply, that the Jews ate the exact same bread that the angels eat. R’ Yishmael argues that angels do not eat bread and instead explains “לחם אבירים” as “לחם שנבלע במאתים וארבעים ושמונה אברים” “bread which is absorbed into the 248 bones”. There still is a need to understand R’ Akiva’s explanation as it does not make any sense, angels don’t eat bread! The Ramban explains that R’ Akiva is basing his explanation off of a medrash that angels are sustained by the shine of the Shechinah which contains the “supreme light” of Hashem. He wants to explain that the manna comes from this same “supreme light” and therefore the angels and the Jews eating מן are being sustained by the same thing!
The Kli Yakar explains that someone who learns Torah has distractions from inside and out. The inner distraction is the effect that eating has on the body. When you eat heavy food, it slows down your body, and more importantly, your mind, thereby preventing you from using your full mental faculties for Torah. It is for this reason that Moshe did not eat anything for the forty days he was on Har Sinai, in order that he would be able to concentrate completely on the Torah he was learning. The outer distraction is the hassle involved in obtaining food which takes away from a person’s time which could be used to learn Torah. The מן was designed specifically with these two problems in mind. Therefore, it was delivered directly to their doors which removed the outer distraction, and by using R’ Akiva’s explanation in the Gemarah in Yoma, we see how it removed the inner distraction as well. The מן was only physical in appearance, but in how it affected a person’s body, it was made up of the “supreme light” of Hashem! With these two characteristics we see that the manna was a completely spiritual “food” which only enhanced the nation’s ability to understand and study the Torah.
We can now understand the medrash which explains that specifically the generation which ate the manna received the Torah. Not only was it important that Bnei Yisrael have an easy path to understanding the Torah, there was also a middah which they had to learn before they could receive it. It is important that anyone who learns Torah has a middah of Sufficiency, the recognition that I don’t need anything more than what is necessary in order to survive. Only someone who is not worried about where his comforts will come from but just knows that he will be okay as long as he has at least his minimal needs, can learn Torah with complete peace of mind, which is the only way he will be able to absorb it all.
The Kli Yakar concludes that this was the test that Hashem was giving Bnei Yisrael. What he gave them was essentially an obstacle-free path to learning Torah. If the nation would not follow the laws even with this spiritual existence, they obviously were not ready to accept the Torah. Except for very few exceptions, they passed this test.
Hopefully soon our generation will also reach this level of the מן, and then we too will be able to learn the Torah and keep its laws in a worry-free state, completely covered inside and out by the shechinah.
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