This week’s Torah portion is filled with so many beautiful components; I’d like to focus on the “Manna”.
In the middle of the showering of the Manna, God tells Moshe:
“מלא העמר ממנו למשמרת לדרתיכם”
Take an omer’s worth of the Manna and put it, as the Talmud says, in an earthenware jar, to remember to remember the heavenly bread that showers upon the Jewish people for 40 years. [Exodus 16:32]
God tells Aaron to do this and to place this earthenware jar of Manna in front of God as a remembrance for all generations. [Ibid., v. 33]
As God commands Moshe and God places the Manna, eventually, in front of the Ark, “למשמרת” – for all generations. [Ibid., v. 34]
You see, God transforms nature for us. Normally, food develops from the ground and the heaven assists through the rains. But throughout the 40 years, it is the heavens that supply the food to the Jewish people and the ground that sustains the process through the covering of the Manna with the dew that’s found on the ground.
Rabbeinu Bachye speaks so beautifully about this by quoting a Mechilta in his commentary on this week’s Torah portion:
“כמה היו ישראל חביבין לפניו ששינה להם מעשה בראשית”
The Jewish people are so precious that God changed the way nature works, so that food didn’t come from the Earth, but came from the heavens, while the dew of the ground protects the food that comes from the heavens.
We remember that on every erev Shabbat in the desert, the Jewish people were showered with two portions, with two helpings, of this covered food, of this Manna. [Exodus 16:5]
And therefore, we start our Shabbos meals, our Friday night meal and our Shabbos morning or afternoon meal with Lechem Mishneh, two helpings of bread, two rolls.
And these two loaves of bread are covered beneath and above at our Shabbos meals to remember the Manna experience.
Yet, the Manna which God commands us should be placed – as the Talmud tells us, in an earthenware jar for remembrance of the miracle – is not placed in the Beis HaMikdash where visitors can see it, but it is placed in the Kodesh Kodashim, in the Holy of Holies.
If [the Manna] is to be a testimony – which the Torah tells us multiple times is the reason for it – why not place it where the people are able to see it?
Why not place it near the Menorah or the show bread, the Lechem Hapanim, or the Mizbayach? Why place it in the Kodesh Kodashim, which has traffic only once a year, on Yom Kippur?
I’d like to thank my son, Yoni, for helping me think this through.
You know that any family, when they make aliya, especially from the United States, has to downsize. And you take the things that are important; and the things that are precious ornaments: the suitcase that my father was given with his family to bring all of his materials from the DP camp to America; the sign that I placed in Central Park asking my wife to marry me. Precious ornaments that find themselves in my study in Jerusalem.
The Holy of Holies contained the Aron HaKodesh; the Cherubs the Keruvim, the Second Luchot; the shattered First Luchot; perhaps the Torah that Moshe wrote; the staff of Aaron, used to miraculously show the primacy role of Moshe and Aaron and the role of the Kohanim in service to God; the anointing oil used to anoint the Kings of Israel and the High Priests.
Essentially, these were the precious articles that represented the relationship between God and the Jewish people. And the Talmud in Yoma, and codified by the Rambam, says that many of these articles were hidden by King Yoshiyahu before the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash in the catacombs beneath the Temple. [Talmud, Yoma 52b; Hilchot Beit Habechira 4:1]
The Kodesh Kodashim is God’s “private study”. The ornaments in the Kodesh Kodashim are not functional ornaments; they are decor in God’s “private study”, that accentuate the relationship.
God tells Aaron to place it there by the Ark – “למשמרת” – to highlight the relationship that exists between us and God.
It’s a relationship in the good times and in the not so good times, like the shattered Luchot.
It’s a relationship that is meaningful because it’s always there. In relationships that are important, it’s not enough to sing about them; it’s not enough to preach them; it’s about engaging and always working on the relationship.
Manna must be presented and kept in order to remind us that relationships that are important, that wish to continue to affect our lives, need to be remembered and need to be worked on.
So as we celebrate this week, Shabbat Shira, as we celebrate the gift of the Manna, let us ask ourselves: how do we make sure in our lives that we work hard to assure that our relationship with God is not something that we just sing about, but something that we live to actualize?