Beshalach – Shishi

Spoiler Warning!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

That evening, a flock of quail landed in the Jews’ camp. There was their meat. And in the morning, when the dew evaporated, they saw fine particles on the ground. They had never seen anything like it. Moshe informed them that it was the bread G-d had promised. They were to take an omer’s worth for each person in their households. (An omer is a measure roughly equivalent to a half gallon.) The food was called manna, man in Hebrew, from the Jews’ reaction of “man hu.” (That could either mean “What is it?” or “It is food.”)

Not everyone took an omer per person as instructed. Some people took more, while others took less. When they measured it, everyone had exactly an omer anyway. Moshe told them not to leave any overnight but, again, some people disobeyed. When they got up, they discovered that the manna they had saved had rotted.

The people had to gather the manna in the morning, because the manna on the ground would melt when the sun got hot. On Friday, the people stocked up for Shabbos. Their leaders worried about this and turned to Moshe. He assured them that this was appropriate, since the people would have to prepare food in advance of the Sabbath. While excess food normally rotted, the extra portion gathered for Shabbos stayed fresh overnight.

Moshe told the people to stock up on Fridays, since manna would not fall on Shabbos. Of course, some people felt the need to test him on this. When they went out to gather manna on Shabbos, they discovered that, as usual, Moshe’s words were reliable. (As an aside, the manna didn’t actually drop out of the sky, it formed on the ground. To say that manna fell is a colloquialism, like to say that dew falls or the sun rises.)

Neither Moshe nor G-d was pleased that some people went looking for manna on Shabbos. G-d commanded the Jews not to do so.

At this point, the Torah describes the manna. We are told that it looked like white coriander and tasted like dough made with honey. G-d told Moshe to fill an omer-sized jar with manna that would stay fresh for posterity so that future generations could see it. After the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was built, the jar of manna was stored there. In something of a spoiler, we are also told that the Jews would eat manna all 40 years in the desert, even though at this point in the narrative they had not yet been condemned to wander for so long.

This synopsis is already pretty long, but one of this author’s favorite divrei Torah is from here, so it’s about to get a little bit longer.

Regarding those who took too much or too little manna, verse 18 tells us “v’lo hedif hamarbeh” (that the person who took more had no extra) and “v’hamamit lo hechsir” (that the one who took less was not lacking). In Hebrew, the numerical values of these two phrases are 458 and 494, respectively. Superficially, they appear to have achieved their goal of changing their lot. However, when you add the digits together, you will see that 4+5+8=17 and 4+9+4=17 – really, everyone ended up with exactly what they were allotted. This gematria is symbolic of the very point of the verse: those who try to cheat the system may think they’re getting away with it, but at the end of the day, we all have that which G-d has determined for us.

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