When I was in middle school at Solomon Schechter, I used to look forward to this week’s parsha, Parshat BeShalah, every year. No, it was not altruistic. I was not a twelve year old who was obsessed with national freedom, which is the major event that occurs as we cross the Red Sea in this parsha. I, like many other youngsters, had (and still have) a sweet tooth. And to commemorate the event at the end of the parsha, God feeding Israel with Manna, our prayer leader/Rosh Tefilla, would give us each a honey glazed donut to give us a sense of what Manna could have tasted like. This sugary miracle came once a year. As a child, the connection to the text seemed to be enough to gain from this edible lesson. But, now, I am hungry for something more.
The Torah tells us, “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.’/וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן קַח צִנְצֶנֶת אַחַת וְתֶן-שָׁמָּה מְלֹא-הָעֹמֶר מָן; וְהַנַּח אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם (Ex. 16:33)...” And the previous verse reads “Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” ’/ לְמַעַן יִרְאוּ אֶת-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר הֶאֱכַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּהוֹצִיאִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם (Ex. 16:32).”
The Me’or Einayim, The Chernobyler Rebbe, pushes us to consider the deeper lesson of the Manna. The verse, “Do not eat the bread of the one with an evil eye/אַל-תִּלְחַם אֶת לֶחֶם רַע עָיִן (Prov. 23:6)”, teaches us that while we eat, we are battling our evil inclination/yeitzer ha’ra/יצר הרע (bread in Hebrew is lehem/לחם, and to battle is lihilahem/להלחם). It is easy to become engaged in eating for its deliciousness and overdo it. And when we are only focused on the physical, we can forget where food really comes from. It is not ours by our own doing, but by the pure grace of God (BT Mo’ed Kattan 28a). It teaches us the true meaning of the verse, “she brings her food from far away/מִמֶּרְחָק תָּבִיא לַחְמָהּ (Proverbs 31:14, from ‘Eishet Hayil’).” God’s Presence/The Shechina/שכינה delivers our food from beyond. According to the Sfas Emes, the collecting and eating of the Manna is only to prepare us to receive and fill ourselves of Torah--which is why in the Dayenu song on Passover we first get the Manna, then Shabbat, and then Torah! The Chernobyler Rebbe wants us to see that our food comes from a distance. And the Sfas Emes teaches that the food comes with a greater purpose.
As a lover of food, this is often difficult for me. I often get lost in the moment of enjoying good food with friends and family. For God’s sake, I am still thinking about a donut I ate twenty years ago! And, yet, this week, I am challenging myself, and everyone, to think about how lucky we are to have food. We need to challenge ourselves to become more and more aware of how lucky we are to have a God that graces us with the ability to have scrumptious Shabbat meals. If we can develop this awareness, then no matter what we put in our mouths, it will truly taste heavenly.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.