“And Moshe said, “Eat it today (ha’yom) for today (ha’yom) is Shabbat to Hashem. Today (ha’yom), you will not find it in the field.” (Shemot 17:25)
During their travels in the desert, Bnai Yisrael was sustained by mun – manna. The mun fell in the morning. A portion suitable for the day’s consumption was collected. However, on the eve of the Shabbat – Erev Shabbat – a double portion of mun fell. This double portion sufficed for Friday and Shabbat. In our pasuk, Moshe explains that on Shabbat the mun will not descend and the people are to eat the mun collected the previous day.
On Shabbat day we are required to eat three meals. One is eaten on the night of Shabbat and two are eaten on the day of Shabbat. The Talmud explains that the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbat is reflected in our pasuk. In his instructions to the people, Moshe uses the term “today” – ha’yom – three times. Each use of the term ha’yom is a reference to one of the Shabbat meals.
What is the nature of this obligation to consume three meals on Shabbat? Shabbat is essentially a day on which we refrain from creative labor – melachah. Through abstaining from melachah we acknowledge that Hashem created the universe in six days and “rested” on the seventh. How is the obligation to consume three meals related to the theme of Shabbat?
Maimonides includes his discussion of the obligation to partake of three Shabbat meals in his discussion of Oneg Shabbat – indulging oneself on Shabbat. Indulging ourselves on Shabbat, is an extension of our obligation to honor Shabbat. Through fulfilling the obligation of Oneg, we demonstrate that Shabbat is a special day. It is evident from Maimonides’ treatment of the three Shabbat meals that they are an expression of the obligation of Oneg Shabbat.
Maimonides explains that the obligation of Oneg Shabbat was established by the Sages. This does not seem to be consistent with the Talmud’s assertion that the requirement of the meals is reflected in our pasuk. According to the Talmud, it seems that at least this element of Oneg – partaking of three meals – is actually contained in the Torah! Based on this consideration, some authorities argue with Maimonides and assert that the obligation of three Shabbat meals is a Torah level requirement.
There is an obvious reconciliation between the position of Maimonides and the Talmud’s treatment of the obligation of the Shabbat meals. Often, the Sages relate laws that they create to passages in the Torah. This is not intended to imply that the law is actually derived from the passage. Instead, the Sages are attaching their decree to a theme or message contained in the passage.
Aruch HaShulchan is not completely satisfied with this response. He observes that the Talmud provides numerous admonitions regarding the importance of the three Shabbat meals. Maimonides himself admonishes us to be careful to not in any way detract from these meals. Aruch HaShulchan argues that the Talmud’s stress on the importance of the three Shabbat meals is not consistent with the thesis that these meals are a requirement established by the Sages.
It should be noted that one can argue that this question is not completely compelling. It is not uncommon for the Sages to provide extensive admonitions regarding their decrees. This is intended to reinforce decrees that we might be tempted to treat lightly – precisely because they were established by the Sages. However, Aruch HaShulchan does not suggest this explanation for the Sages’ admonitions in this instance. Instead, he provides an interesting alternative.
Aruch HaShulchan suggests a novel resolution of the apparent contradiction between Maimonides and the Talmud. As noted above, the Talmud explains that the three-time use of the term ha’yom in our pasuk reflects the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbat. Aruch HaShulchan notes that according to Tur, Hashem actually caused each person to be supplied with three portions of mun for Shabbat. By providing these three portions, Hashem communicated that it is appropriate to consume three meals on Shabbat.
Based on Tur’s comments, Aruch HaShulchan offers a simple resolution of the apparent contradiction between the Talmud and Maimonides’ assertion that Oneg Shabbat and the obligation of three Shabbat meals is a decree of the Sages. He explains that the requirement of three meals may have been established by Moshe. Moshe based his decree on the pattern of the mun. A triple portion of mun was provided for Shabbat. Moshe made the obvious deduction that through providing this triple portion Hashem communicated that it is appropriate to partake of three meals on Shabbat. Therefore, although the obligation of three Shabbat meals is a decree of the Sages – perhaps from Moshe – it is reflected in the Torah.
This explains the Talmud’s admonitions regarding the importance of these three Shabbat meals. Although the meals are required by a decree of the Sages, they are reflected in the Torah – in the pattern of the mun. This decree is qualitatively different than most other decrees of the Sages. Other decrees are designed to reinforce laws of the Torah. Because these more common decrees are safeguards for and reinforcement of Torah laws they are treated less stringently than the Torah laws they reinforce. In contrast, the requirement of three Shabbat meals is not merely a reinforcement of the Torah law. It is a reflection of a theme in the Torah itself.
“And Moshe and Aharon said to all of Bani Yisrael, “In the evening you will know that Hashem took you out of Egypt.” (Shemot 17:8)
How are the three Shabbat meals an expression of Oneg Shabbat? In order to answer this question we must consider this pasuk. Bnai Yisrael complained to Moshe that they did not have adequate food. Moshe responded that Hashem would provide them with food in the evening and in the morning. In the evening, quail would descend upon the camp of Bnai Yisrael. The quail would provide the people with meat. In the morning the mun would appear. They would collect the mun and have food for the day. However in introducing this solution, Moshe and Aharon began with the pasuk above. They explained that in the evening – with the descent of the quail upon the camp – the people would recognize that Hashem had redeemed them from Egypt.
The commentaries are concerned with an obvious problem. How did the descent of the mun reinforce the message that Hashem had taken Bnai Yisrael out of Egypt? Certainly, the sudden descent of the quail was a miracle. But it was not nearly as great as the wonders that the people had already observed during the exodus from Egypt. It cannot be compared to the plaques or the splitting of the Reed Sea!
Sforno explains that Bani Yisrael experienced both physical and spiritual bondage in Egypt. They were slaves. Their labor and their very bodies were not their own. But their spiritual and emotional bondage was as great – perhaps greater – than their physical bondage. In Egypt, they had developed the habits, attitudes, and outlook of slaves. Their complete redemption required their liberation from their servitude to the Egyptians and also their development of attitudes and habits fitting a free people.
Sforno notes that according to the Talmud, Bnai Yisrael did not have set times for eating. They were dependant upon their masters to provide them with food and the opportunity to eat. After the exodus from Egypt, Moshe established fixed meal times for Bnai Yisrael.
Why were these fixed meal times important? The constant anxiety and preoccupation of Bnai Yisrael over food was a remnant of their emotional bondage. In order for Bnai Yisrael to continue to develop into a free people, it was important that they shed this anxiety and preoccupation and replace it with a sense of security essential to a free person.
Sforno explains that the quail and the mun addressed this problem. The quail descended in the evening and the mun appeared in the morning. Set and regular evening and morning meals were instituted through the pattern of the mun and quail. Moshe suggested that this constancy and regularity would free the people of their anxiety and preoccupation with food.
According to Sforno, this is the meaning of the above pasuk. Moshe and Aharon prayed that through the descent of the quail and the appearance of the mun in the morning, the people would be further liberated from their emotional and spiritual bondage. They were not asserting the descent of the quail was a greater miracle than the wonders that the people had already observed. They prayed for this miracle to help the Bnai Yisrael continue on their path of liberation from the bondage of Egypt. Moshe and Aharon prayed that through this miracle the people would realize that Hashem was not only redeeming them from their physical bondage but also from their emotional and spiritual bondage.
This insight provides a simple answer to our question. How are the three meals Shabbat meals an expression of Oneg Shabbat? According to the Talmud – as understood by Sforno – the pattern of the mun and quail established a fixed pattern of meals for Bnai Yisrael. This pattern consisted of two daily meals – one in the morning and one in the evening. The triple portion of mun for Shabbat was an exception to this weekday pattern. The triple portion indicated that it is appropriate to have a third meal on Shabbat. Because this third Shabbat meal is an addition to the daily weekday pattern, it is an expression of the special character of the day.  Mesechet Shabbat 117b. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 30:9.  Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 30:1.  Rav Yechiel Michal HaLeyve Epstein, Aruch HaShulchan, Orech Chayim 291:1.  Rav Yechiel Michal HaLeyve Epstein, Aruch HaShulchan, Orech Chayim 291:1  Mesechet Yoma 75b.  Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, Commentary on Sefer Shemot, 17:8.  There is well-known custom to refer to the third meal as Shalos Seudos – three meals. This appellation seems to be inaccurate. The third meal is a single meal, not three meals! I recall that Mr. Meyer Twersky A”H once explained this custom. He explained – based on sources I do not recall – that it is this third meal that gives all of the meals their unique Shabbat character. The Torah recognizes a set of two meals as appropriate for weekdays and a set of three meals as appropriate for Shabbat. The Shabbat set of three meals only emerges and becomes fully evident with our participation in the third meal. This third meal gives all of the Shabbat meals their special character as the set of three Shabbat meals. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to this third meal as Shalos Seudos – all three meals derive their special Shabbat character from this third meal.