Tag Archives: manna

Beshalach: Traveling to Meet God

train-october-expressAround the turn of the twentieth century, Vladimir, an illiterate and unworldly Siberian peasant, struck it rich. One day he was offered a very lucrative business proposition. Closing the deal, however, required his presence in Moscow.

Moscow. He was pretty sure that a horse—even the sturdiest his village had to offer—would not be able to make the trip of several thousand kilometers . . . Some of the more sophisticated residents of the town came to his rescue, advising him about the existence of a new mode of transportation, a “train.” If he were to travel to Novosibirsk, the closest large city, he would be able to catch a train to Moscow.

Thus, one fine day found Vladimir in the central train station of Novosibirsk. When he informed the lady behind the ticket counter of his intended destination, she asked him what sort of ticket he wished to purchase. Observing his confusion, she told him that he could purchase a first-, second- or third-class ticket. A third-class ticket, she explained, offered absolutely no amenities, and didn’t even guarantee a spot on the train. If the arriving train was already filled to capacity, he would have to wait for the next one. A second-class ticket offered a greater chance of a spot on the train, along with more comfortable accommodations. A first-class ticket came with a guaranteed seat, and all amenities necessary to ensure a luxurious and comfortable journey.

Money was hardly an issue, so first class it would be. The ticket lady explained to her consumer that the ticket was non-refundable, and should be guarded carefully…

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
“First-Class Stowaway”

At this stage of reading the Rabbi’s fable, I was anticipating disaster at any second. While Vladimir had certainly done well for himself in a material sense, anyone who didn’t know what a train was and needed one as a mode of transportation was certainly bound to get into trouble. I guess that’s what happens when you have too much of one thing but not enough of another. Money minus common-sense or experience equals what?

But before getting to the answer, you may be asking yourself what Vladimir’s predicament has to do with Torah Portion Beshalach?

That’s a very good question.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion — that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not. But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “By evening you shall know it was the Lord who brought you out from the land of Egypt; and in the morning you shall behold the Presence of the Lord…

So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it would melt. On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the Lord. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered; and it did not turn foul, and there were no maggots in it. Then Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath of the Lord; you will not find it today on the plain. Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.”

Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? Mark that the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you two days’ food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no one leave his place on the seventh day.” So the people remained inactive on the seventh day.

Exodus 16:4-7, 21-30 (JPS Tanakh)

I suppose the Children of Israel couldn’t be blamed. After all, no one had ever seen or heard of such a thing as manna before. I mean, food that rained out of the sky? C’mon! And once they got used to the idea that they could gather food that had rained right on the ground every morning, they had to get past the idea that it would be there tomorrow and the next day. They didn’t have to save up. But then, on top of all that, they had to get used to the idea that a double-portion would fall on only Friday morning, and that double-portion they could save overnight, so that they’d have food for Shabbat. No food was going to rain from Heaven on Shabbat.

waiting-for-mannaToday, it is typical that we have jobs, earn money, and go to the store when we want food. We don’t expect, nor has God promised that our food will literally fall out of the sky and into our backyards. And yet, we are expected to know when to make an effort in order to meet our needs as God provides, and when to wait for God alone to fulfill our requirements.

It’s not easy.

Part of it has to do with experience. The Children of Israel eventually became quite accustomed to manna and how to manage it, including its “gathering schedule.” But at first it was quite awkward and difficult to figure out, even after Moses told them what God had to say about manna. That takes us back to Vladimir and his predicament.

The train arrived. After his initial shock at seeing such a monstrously large caravan of cars, Vladimir regained his composure and scanned the terminal to see what to do. As it was early, most of the passengers had not yet arrived, but he noticed three passengers boarding the very last car on the train. He followed them into the car, and when each one climbed beneath one of the benches in the car, he did the same. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol, and his feet jutted out across the aisle of the third-class car.

It was dark and lonely beneath the bench, and Vladimir quickly dozed off. He didn’t feel the train start to move, and didn’t hear the conductor entering the car. He did, however, feel a sharp kick to his shins, and the startled peasant was expertly hoisted out by the burly conductor.

“You moron, you think this is a free ride?” he bellowed. “You need a ticket to ride this train!”

“What’s the problem, sir,” Vladimir meekly responded. “I have a ticket.”

The other travelers on the train car burst out laughing at this ludicrous claim. Their laughter only intensified when he started peeling off layer after layer of clothing, starting with his expensive fur coat and ending with his undergarments. But, much to their astonishment, he pulled out a ticket—a first-class ticket, no less!

After verifying that the ticket was indeed authentic, the conductor, in a distinctly humbled tone of voice, asked the obvious: “Sir, you have an expensive first-class ticket; pray tell me why you are lying under a bench in the third-class car?!”

“Because that’s what the others were doing . . .” was the embarrassed response.

What is it about being a Christian that’s so difficult? Lots of things. What is it about being a person who hasn’t been a Christian for very long that’s so difficult? Lots of things. Like Vladimir, we have been given a tremendous gift, something of great value, but we have no experience with it.

In some ways, this is a very enviable position, because we don’t come with years or decades of dogma riding on our shoulders and getting in the way. It’s just the new Christian and God. Probably some of the most honest prayers a person will ever utter will be when he or she has just come to faith.

But there are liabilities attached. When you don’t know much about the God you’re supposed to have a relationship with, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how to act, you are like a person who has a ticket for a first-class train ride, and you’ve just seen your first train that morning. So, when you don’t know what to do, you do like everyone else is doing, even if they’re exactly the wrong people to emulate.

transcendenceBut how do we know who to imitate?

I could get on my soapbox about mentorship and discipleship and the responsibility of experienced believers to help teach “newbies,” but I suppose you’ve heard all that before. Vladimir learned an embarrassing but not disastrous lesson (he didn’t lose his expensive ticket as I imagined when I read just the first half of the tale).

But what about you and me?

I suppose Vladimir eventually learned the ins and outs of rail travel and probably became quite good at it, but the moral of this particular story is that we will be held accountable by God, not for just what we did in the first days and weeks after becoming a believer, but what we did with our “first-class ticket” for our entire lives. Experience is only valuable if we learn from it and let it modify our behavior. We have to grow spiritually or we get stuck doing the moral equivalent of sneaking on board a train for which we have a ticket. We waste what God has given us (reminds me of Matthew 25:14-30). This too is the lesson of the manna. We can use it wisely, learning when to gather and when not to, when to save and when to use it all in the evening, or we can waste what God has provided.

The Children of Israel were on a journey to go and meet God. So are we. The manna was just one of the lessons they needed to learn along the way in order to get ready to encounter God. What lessons is God giving us that we need to learn before our encounter?

When God calls for an accounting of what you did with your first-class ticket, your life as a believer, what will you say?

Good Shabbos.

Beshalach: Waiting for the Bread of Heaven

The purpose of the manna was to uplift those who ate it and heighten their spiritual consciousness. As a result of this spiritual boost, the Jews were able to “follow My teaching”—to receive the Torah, as it is indeed stated in the Midrash: (Mechilta ad loc) “The Torah could only have been given to those who had partaken of the manna.” (Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, vol. 1, pp. 238-239.)

-From the Kehot Chumash
Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach
Chapter 16
Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:3-4 (ESV)

It may be strange to think of us today as waiting for our bread from Heaven, but I think that’s exactly what we do at times. Think about what it meant to the Children of Israel in the wilderness to wait on God for their bread. Although they had vast herds of livestock with them, they still have no reliable source of “daily bread,” especially enough to feed millions of people, morning, noon, and night. In this, they were completely reliant on God for their food and drink and without Him, they could do nothing.

As slaves, the Israelites depended on the Egyptians for their food and drink (and housing and everything else), and even though life was hard and often brutal, they were used to it, as a convict becomes used to a long term in prison. There was a routine. There were expectations that were fulfilled day in and day out. Breakfast would come tomorrow from the Egyptians because it came yesterday, and the day before, and last year, and in the days of their fathers and grandfathers.

But they weren’t used to waiting on God. They were together as a people, but they felt alone. They were free, but they were in a strange and unpredictable environment. The Egyptians were men and the Israelites understood how men could provide bread, but God is not a man and who can possibly understand manna?

So they were afraid, and they doubted, and they complained, and they tested God. This was a mistake, but it was a completely understandable one. But did God understand?

“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. –Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” –Matthew 4:7 (ESV)

It certainly doesn’t sound that way, but then again, how could God possibly misunderstand His creations? How can He possibly misunderstand us, when we too are waiting for our “bread from Heaven” and we feel alone, and afraid, and uncertain?

It’s even more confusing when God sets up a schedule and then creates an exception:

Interestingly, Moses does not tell the Jews that the manna will not be in the field, but only that they will not find it there. And indeed, the manna was esoterically present on the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath is the source of all blessings, including those of material sustenance. In this sense, the manna of the other six days descended as a result of the “spiritual manna” that was produced on the Sabbath. (Zohar 2:63b, 88a.)

The physical manna gathered during the week “materialized” out of this spiritual manna. It therefore had to be acquired through physical effort: it had to be gathered, cooked, and so on. In contrast, the Sabbath manna was not manifested physically and therefore could not be “accessed” by any physical means.

Similarly, our physical livelihood is spiritually “produced” by our observance of the Sabbath. During the ensuing week, we have to gather the material blessings of the Sabbath by engaging in our weekday work. But on the Sabbath itself, we must refrain even from thinking about our livelihood. (Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 181-182.)

-Chassidic Insights commentary continued

This is certainly a very mystic interpretation, but it teaches us something beyond the literal telling of the tale of manna in the desert. Whether we believe we provide for ourselves through the work of our hands and our minds, in reality, everything we think belongs to us was produced by and belongs to God. Beyond that, it shows us that in some manner or fashion, the Shabbat rest results in producing what we need from God and ourselves for the other six days of the week. That’s why we give thanks to Him for everything.

But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least right away? But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least in the manner we expected to receive? But what about when we ask for a fish and God gives us (seemingly) a snake instead?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. For which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! –Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)

There’s a difference between what we need and what we want. God knows what we need, even as He knew what the Israelites in the desert needed. They didn’t ask for manna, but God knew they needed it. At first, they didn’t even know what to do with the manna, but God told Moses and Moses told the people. Eventually, the people got sick and tired of eating manna every single day, but God knew they still needed it on a regular basis and the gift that God gave continued to be His gift, regardless of whether or not it was received with gratitude.

We know that our purpose in a life created by God is not to be served but to serve. Jesus illustrated this very clearly here:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. –John 13:12-17

And yet, we are weak, and we need so much, and we depend on God, or we try to. There are times when we must act in order to receive from God, but there are other times when we are utterly helpless, and we can do nothing but wait.

And waiting on God to deliver His bread from Heaven is very hard. Even when it arrives, we may not recognize it for what it is, since His blessings may not come in a form we will understand. Even when we realize He has delivered His blessings, because they are not as we wanted them to be, we may be ungrateful, or hurt, or even feel betrayed that God didn’t give us what we wanted, when we wanted it, in exactly the way, shape, and form we asked for. But as difficult as it is for us, we must strive to trust God and not to question our Sovereign.

But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” –Exodus 14:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” –Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

We can trust in God, if only we will wait.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. –Psalm 145:16 (ESV)

His hand is opening. He’s about to help you. Wait.

Good Shabbos.