Beyond the one-time miracles in Egypt, God demonstrates in this Parasha that He will forever be with us.
By the same token, we will decide, based on our mindset and our actions, whether God will be present or hidden in our lives.
As the new-born Jewish nation leaves Egypt and journeys through the desert for 40 years, God is with them, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Always. “When one set, the other rose” – Rashi.
When they are hungry, God brings them quail at night and Manna every morning. However, the latter gift – a perfect food which according to midrash was completely absorbed by their bodies and left no waste – is also a means of refining their characters and introducing them to the most powerful spiritual concept of all – Shabbat.
“And the nation will go out and gather for that day’s sustenance, and I will test them if they will go according to my Torah or not.” (Shmot 16:4)
Moshe transmits to the people God’s “user instructions” for this daily desert abundance: 1) they shall gather only what they need – an “omer” for each member of their household, 2) they shall not save Manna for the next day, with faith that God will provide for them anew each morning, and 3) on the Sixth day, they shall do the opposite: gather a double portion, and all that they cook and bake, they should save for the next day.
“See (believe!)” Moshe tells them, “God gave you Shabbat, and therefore on the Sixth day, He gave you bread for two days.”
The Biblical Manna is a paradigm for our livelihoods today – six days it is a mitzvah to work, but with the full awareness that, with all our efforts, money is a blessing from Above. We express that faith by not working on the seventh day – Shabbat, by being honest in all of our dealings, and by giving a tenth of our earnings to Tzedaka.
3000 years after leaving Egypt, the same God who makes the almond tree blossom in the month of Shvat every year in Israel, no matter what the climate (political or otherwise), is the same God who led us with a pillar of cloud and fire, who gave us food from Heaven and our sustenance to this day, who helped Joshua and his army of freed slaves overcome the Amalekites’ terrorism against the weak and innocent (also to the present day), and the God who kept his part of the Covenant and returned us upright to our Land.
Even as we have become “senior partners” in this Covenant, in the language of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and have assumed responsibility for our welfare and our lives, these pivotal events are still meant to inform our values and priorities. A mere “fifth” of our nation chose to leave Egypt, according to some commentators, and today Jewish surnames certainly do not imply strong Jewish identity, but there is also a plethora of excellent Jewish and Zionist educational initiatives to help Jews who choose to deepen their connections to our values, Land and People.
By far the most brilliant initiative to help strengthen these connections is still Shabbat, God’s profound, weekly gift to us in the desert. And as family Shabbat meals and communal Kabbalot Shabbat gain momentum among Jews of all backgrounds, they surely bring healing to our discomfited world.
Shabbat, the source of all blessing, invites every Jew, every week, to sit with loved ones in calming candlelight, and talk, eat, dream, be grateful, and celebrate who we fully are.
Happy Tu b’Shvat and Shabbat shalom!