The Descent of Mannah: Beshallach 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Are there foods that you would never try? Have you been turned off by a food’s smell or texture before daring to put it in your mouth? Or are you willing to try just about any food?

With the Israelites in need of sustenance in the wilderness, a mysterious food descends from the heavens:

The Pitch: “When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ – for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which Adonai has given you to eat.’” – Exodus 16:14-15

Swing #1: “In Saadiah Gaon’s opinion, the manna was a greater wonder than the marvels the Israelites witnessed in Egypt. For, as he points out in his introduction to his philosophical tract, Emunot Ve-De’ot, sustaining close to two million people for forty years with food created, as it were, from the air, is no mean feat. The manna was a delicate food, a diet suited for the teaching of wisdom to the Jewish people. … The manna was a natural and miraculous phenomenon, with Saadiah adding a spiritual dimension as well.” – Dr. Aharon Gimani, “They Said to One Another, ‘What is it?’ … ‘That is the Bread,’” from A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume I

Swing #2: “Every Israelite who partook of the manna from heaven changed so greatly in appearance that the others were unable to recognize him. He was not the same as he had been before. … Each would say of the other: ‘Who is this? He is no longer the same man. He has taken on new spiritual dimensions.’ … [Moses explained] to them that this change had been wrought by the bread from heaven of which they had partaken.” – Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rimanov

Swing #3: “Manna’s appearance represents an anomaly in the context of the Bible’s miracles, since miracles do not usually introduce previously unknown substances or creatures. Instead, they change the world by undermining the order of the various elements of Creation; they resemble (somewhat) a surrealistic painting in which the components, all common and borrowed from reality, achieve their fantastical effect by having been rearranged. … The deviation of the manna from this pattern, it being an entirely new creation, becomes clear by the Bible’s various attempts to define, describe, and fathom it by comparing the manna with other, known phenomena.” – Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, From God to Gods

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators indicate that the mannah is supposed to be more than mere sustenance; it also is meant to fulfill some of the Israelites’ spiritual needs. In what ways does food fill our souls as well as our bellies? How is eating a spiritual experience? Are there ways we can make eating a more spiritual experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This weekend is all about legacy. Our Tu Bishvat Seder at tonight’s FNL will speak of the legacy we leave for the earth; tomorrow morning’s service will recognize the dozens of congregants who have signed up for our Life & Legacy society; and our participation in Monday’s MLK Day March (which will include some of our friends from Pittsburgh) will honor Dr. King’s legacy and challenge us to make it a reality. Hope to see you there.

The Big Inning at the End: The bizarre eating habits of some ballplayers are well-documented, but perhaps my favorite example is that of pitcher Turk Wendell, who chew on the mound not tobacco, not gum, but licorice. And he would brush his teeth between every inning. (Seriously.)

Shabbat Shalom!