Flask: Focusing on Faith

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

One of the great miracles the generation of the exodus lived with was the desert food that sustained them for forty years, the daily allotment of manna that fell from heaven. On the first day it fell, Moshe tells Bnei Yisroel “the thing/word” that Hashem commanded, to collect an omer of manna lemishmeret/for safekeeping so that future generations will know [and have physical evidence] of this miracle, and place this jar before Hashem [in the Ark in the kadosh kodoshim/Holy of Holies]. Moshe then repeats the command to Aharon, telling him to, “Take one jar and put a full omer of manna into it and place it before Hashem for a safekeeping for your generations.” Then the Torah records the fulfillment of this command:“As Hashem had commanded Moshe, Aharon placed it before the Ark of Testimony for safekeeping.”

Interestingly, the Oznaim Latorah points out that while one usually takes a memento as a souvenir at the end of a journey, here Hashem commanded Moshe to take the manna on the first day of the journey. And if this was to be a reminder of the manna that sustained Bnei Yisroel in the desert, why was it put in the Aron Kodesh where no one would see it? If Hashem commanded this to Moshe, why then is it Aharon who actually fulfills this mission?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh asks further questions to begin our discussion. In our Torah which is so terse in its language, why are the instructions that Moshe tells Bnei Yisroel repeated almost verbatim to Aharon. The Ohr Hachaim explains that Hashem’s word to Moshe was relatively vague, requiring interpretation. Moshe, in relaying the command to Aharon, fills in the blanks. From the word mishmeret, Moshe understood that this manna must be kept safe from two possibilities, both from theft and from becoming impure. The place to protect the manna from either of these possibilities would be in the Aron Kodesh, alongside the luchot.

Since this command had been given before the Mishkan was built, Moshe understood that the command was to be performed by Aharon who was destined to be the kohen gadol, adds Oznaim Latorah. Because the command was first given to Moshe and then relayed to Aharon, “As Hashem commanded Moshe,” precedes the fulfillment of the command by Aharon.

Indeed, many generations later the Prophet Yirmiyahu showed this flask to Bnei Yisroel as proof that they should have full faith in Hashem for their sustenance as did the generation of the desert; they can and must take time to study Torah.

But this message was also for Aharon as a representative of the Tribe of Levi. The Tribe of Levi would not get a portion in the Land of Israel. Rather, they would be supported by the Torah through the people, for their mission was to be the teachers of Torah to Bnei Yisroel, and Bnei Yisroel would support them in return. Moshe Rabbenu himself was also enriched by the Torah/Luchot. When Hashem told Moshe to “carve for yourself’ the second set of Luchot, Hashem gave Moshe the stone chips that fell from the carving. With these, by being the bearer and teacher of Torah, Moshe himself became rich, writes Rabbi Bachye.

It is a message relevant for every generation, notes Rabbi Yoffe in Le’ovdecha B’emes. For those who truly dedicate their lives to Torah study, Hashem will always provide for their sustenance, just as he provided for those following Hashem, wandering in the wilderness. Indeed, citing Rabbi Hutner, for those who remain in Hashem’s Torah studying army all day, Hashem will provide. All others must use the path of praying fervently for their sustenance. One need not have reached the goal of living a completely spiritual life, continues Rabbi Yoffe citing the Meshech Chochma. One can be at the beginning of that journey, as Bnei Yisroel were upon just leaving Egypt, but if one resolves to live a Torah life, of following Torah and mitzvoth, Hashem will provide for him. In fact, it is at the beginning of the journey, at the start of a new project that enthusiasm is at its highest, It is for this reason, suggests Rabbi Kram in Vetalmudo Beyodo, that the manna was to be collected when it first fell, and the wonder of it, awed Bnei Yisroel rather than at the end of the forty year journey when the manna became routine.

Further, the manna was placed alongside the Sefer Torah, writes Rabbi Pam referring to Rabbi Bachye, to teach us that our job and workplace must also be conducive to living a Torah lifestyle, the surroundings should be conducive to proper behavior and our colleagues should be of moral character.

The manna was generally not easily collected. Most of the people were required to go quite a distance outside the camp to collect the manna. In effect, they had to work for their sustenance just as most people need to go to work today, writes Rabbi Belsky. In effect, there needs to be a balance between our own effort/hishtadlus and our reliance on Hakodosh Boruch Hu, knowing that our effort is the conduit through which Hashem will provide for us. Anyone who understands this and puts his complete trust in Hashem, even though he does major sins, says the Gr”a, is better than the Torah scholar whose faith is weak. The manna teaches that relying on Hakodosh Boruch Hu will provide for us through all the generations.  

“This is the thing that Hashem commanded,” to teach all the future generations to have faith and to feel secure in knowing that Hashem watches over each of us personally, that He orchestrates every moment of my life, writes Rav Aaron Kotler zt”l.

Our connection to Hashem and His to us is a pipeline, continues Rav Kotler. When the parts are connected properly, the waters flow smoothly and freely. When they are not connected properly or are blocked, the water never comes out the other end or sprays out uselessly. If you think you are in control, you are blocking the pipeline from Hashem down to you. The jar of manna was meant to be a concrete reminder of our reliance on Hashem. It was also meant to remind us that Hashem gives each of us according to our will, just as the manna tasted like whatever the taster imagined. Additionally, each got according to his personal needs each day, whether he was able to collect more one day or less the next day.

The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked a very logical question. Why did Hashem send a ration of manna on a daily basis? Would it not have been more efficient to send the full ration of manna once a month or once a year instead of every day? But Hashem wanted Bnei Yisroel to come to Him every day, to believe in Him. As Rabbi Schlesinger explains, there was no guarantee that there would be food each day. Each night, when the food had been completely consumed, the father would teach the child to have faith that Hashem would provide for them again the next day. Similarly, we also do not know what tomorrow will bring. In this regard, it is harder for someone on a fixed salary to develop full betachon/faith/reliance in Hashem than for someone self employed who cannot know what he will earn the next day. [One of the lessons of the current pandemic is that for many people, both salaried and self employed, there is no guarantee that money will be available, often for even the basic necessities. We are learning the hard way that Hashem controls our financial health as well as our physical health. CKS] Hashem wants to connect with us, and therefore He asks us to approach Him in prayer three times a day.

This lesson in faith is the theme of the entire parsha, continues Rabbi Schlesinger, citing Rabbenu Bachye. This theme is so strongly part of the splitting of the sea, It was not only that the sea didn’t split until Nachshon ben Aminodov jumped into the water, but also that the sea did not split completely from end to end. It was that the sea split only right in front of Bnei Yisroel as they advanced. Bnei Yisroel saw only water in front of them, moving toward the water and trusting that the sea would continue to open into a dry path before them. Then, as soon as they passed, the waters returned to their original state.

In a sad commentary, the Ohel Moshe explains that we don’t need the manna to teach us faith today, for in the Diaspora our lives are constantly precarious [like a fiddler on the roof]. We have no choice but to put our trust in Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The manna was the overt miracle meant to open our eyes to the daily, concealed miracles around us.

In relaying the instructions for saving the manna, Moshe called the container in which it is to be stored a tzintzenet. This is the only time the word appears in the entire Tanach. Rabbi Leibel Eiger understands this to mean more than just a flask or jug. Rabbi Eiger sees in this word the word tzon/sheep repeated twice. Bnei Yisroel are My sheep, the sheep I shepherded in the wilderness (Tehillim 95), for if I look to Hashem as my Shepherd, I will never want/lack [for anything]. (Tehillim 23). And we know that it is not by bread alone that we live, but by that [word] which emanates from Hashem’s mouth. (Devarim 8:3) It would be Aharon who put Hashem’s word into the Ark, and so Moshe deduced that it should be Aharon who would put the flask of manna into the Ark alongside Hashem’s word, showing that both come directly from Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Not just food, but all our necessities come from Hashem, from our safety crossing the Sea to our shidduchim, as difficult as the splitting of the sea. Aharon was the one who brought us closer to Hashem, and Aharon would symbolically put the two together in the Aron Kodesh. 

The manna was such a spiritual entity that it was truly meant to be only in the strict spirituality of the kodesh kadashim, writes Rabbi Sternbach. By putting the manna that Hashem fed us in the desert in the aron kodesh, Hashem show us that He is always just as concerned with our physical needs as He is with our spiritual needs.

In response to Hashem’s giving us the manna, Moshe Rabbenu composed the first blessing of Birkat Hamazon/Grace after Meals. By reciting this blessing, we are both acknowledging that Hashem is the Provider of the food we have just eaten and also thanking Hashem for this gift which we have not earned. The blessing further praises God for providing food for all His creatures, both large and small because of His loving kindness, and we will never be left wanting. From the highest heaven Hashem is still concerned for the lowliest creatures. How often do we rise from rote recitation to actually recite these blessing with the full heart and mind that it is Hashem’s benevolence that provides sustenance for us, asks Rabbi Levenstein? We no longer have this jar of manna, but according to out tradition, it, along with the Holy Ark was hidden somewhere under the Beit Hamikdosh when King Yoshiyahu sensed the impending Temple destruction and exile.

This jar of manna was not destroyed, writes the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh. It was saved for generations. Just as the Prophet Yirmiyahu took it out to show to the people at that time, so will the Prophet Eliyahu show it to Bnei Yisroel at the arrival of Moshiach.

However, if this jar of manna was in the kadosh kodoshim where only the kohen gadol could enter and only once a year, how could Yirmiyahu have taken out this jar of manna to show to the people? Vayovenu Bamikra proposes a novel understanding of our verses that solves this dilemma. He suggests that there were in fact two commands, The first was for all of Bnei Yisroel to collect and save an omer of manna to show and teach future generations how Hashem sustained us in the desert. It was from these jars of manna that Bnei Yisroel ate upon capturing the land until they could plant and reap their own crops, and it was from these jars that Yirmiyahu showed his generation that Hashem will sustain them. Then, after the Mishkan was erected, Moshe told Aharon to fill another jar with manna to be put into the Ark in the Mishkan for safekeeping.

While we no longer have the privilege of a physical jar of manna as a constant reminder of Hashem’s providing for us, we must maintain its message from generation to generation, we must teach it to our children, and always remember that we are Hashem’s beloved flock.