This week's parsha
Manna, Food of Starvation
A family friend once told me that she would notice a peculiar quirk whenever her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, would stay at her house.
Every night before retiring to bed, Zeide would wander into the kitchen and unobtrusively check out the contents of her pantry. If there was bread on the shelf, he’d relax and head off to his bedroom. But if there was none, he would invariably leave the house to buy a loaf.
He never made a big fuss about it, and she does not remember whether he ever explicitly said that he could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house, but that was his custom.
Obviously, his war experience influenced this behavior. We who have never been really hungry cannot possibly fathom the effect of the years of privation that he and his generation suffered in the ghettos and camps. But I can imagine, in an abstract sense, the anxiety of never really knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.
The Food of Starvation
We find a parallel concept in this week’s Torah reading. The manna that fell from heaven throughout the 40 years in the desert is referred to by the Midrash as “starvation food.” On the face of it, this doesn’t seem to make sense. The manna was the food of miracles, falling every day and feeding the nation. Every single person received an exact portion, sized to satiate one’s hunger, and it had the miraculous property of tasting like whichever food one desired. What could be more satisfying than that?
However, on reflection, it’s understandable that if you had to rely on a daily miracle to eat, you’d always feel hungry. Imagine going to bed every night for 40 years nervously wondering if G‑d would send food again the next day. You might have been fed today, but how confident would you be of the next day’s sustenance? You’d always be thinking about food.
The Food That Satisfies
It is interesting to note, however, that in the first blessing of Grace After Meals, we quote the words “You shall eat, be satisfied and bless the L‑rd your G‑d,” which according to our tradition is a reference to the manna.
Now, that’s really strange. Is the manna satisfying or not? Is it the bread of starvation or the food that fills you up? How can one foodstuff, miraculous as it may be, be variously described in such different ways?
Because the feelings a person has towards the manna are influenced by his perspective on life and his relationship with G‑d.
From one perspective, the food you buy with the money you’ve earned is far more satisfying than the potential manna still to fall from heaven. Your resources are measurable and quantifiable, and you can relax in the knowledge that you have enough to eat today. However, from another perspective, the money you’ve got right now and the food that you can buy with it is limited. There is only so much that you will ever be able to achieve on your own.G‑d, however, is infinite and has unlimited resources to share. No matter how difficult it is now and how tough your current circumstances, you can feel confident that things can and will improve. Even in times of loss and suffering, you can look forward to a better tomorrow, with hope and confidence that G‑d will provide the resources for your salvation.
The manna that comes to us as a gift directly from G‑d is the truest and most satisfying food one can possibly receive. And the sprinkling of G‑dliness that falls in our life is the daily bread of faith that sustains our body and spirit forever.