There are times that the media news cycle throws out a story that is so apropos to the weekly parshah that as a Rabbi it is hard to ignore.
The flight attendant brought the Coke and opened the can. The woman asked that she be given an unopened can of Diet Coke, to which the flight attendant replied that TSA rules prohibit passengers from opening their own soft drink cans.
In the parshah this week we read about the Bnei Yisrael complaining about the maan, the heavenly food provided by God that they received every day for forty years in the desert.
The Torah says that the Bnei Yisrael cried out and said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish taht we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our life is parched, we have nothing! We have nothing before our eyes except for the maan!”
It just makes you want to tweet #firstworldproblems. How could they complain about the maan? Were the Jews in the desert so fragile? They suffered 200 years of slavery. Shouldn’t they just have been happy to have any food at all as free people?
The Torah says that the maan tasted like lishod hashemen, which Rashi translates as soaked in honey and oil. While that sounds great, what if you don’t like honey and oil? Or even if you do, maybe it is tasty for the first day, the first week, even the first month. But after a few months, day after day after day the same food, it starts to lose its appeal. You start to crave something – anything – else.
Also, the maan was the color of crystal. That means that it was completely clear. One of the blessings that God gave to us was that not only is food nurishing, and not only is it tasty, but the food that he provides is beautiful! It is fragerant, colorful, and there is so much variety! Would we know any different if fruit from the tree was in the form of a colorless pellet that gave us our daily nutrition? That could have been the world. but instead Hashem created a world with beautiful fruits and vegetables and other varieties of food that are pleasing to all of the senses.
Not the maan. Just as its taste was bland, so was its appearance.
And there was something else about the maan. One of the many miracles of the maan is that each person found exactly the right amount for himself and his family. There was no way to store maan. The Torah says it had a shelf life of exactly one day – like an avocado.
That takes away a certain level of human initiative. It is our nature to derive benefit from the reward of extra work. The man who extols a little extra effort, works a few more hours, feels a sense of accomplishment when his pay check has a few more dollars.
The maan did not provide for that understandable human need.
All of these are reasons that they complained about the maan. They are completely reasonable things to complain about, and we would complain too.
Hashem himself says that the maan was not meant to be pleasant. “It was a test in order to afflict you. To know if you were with God or not.”
The maan did not provide the general enjoyment that Hashem generosly provides in our food so that we would learn lessons of austerity (miller)
For 200 years in Egypt all we knew was work. So for forty years we learned while work is nice, there are more important things to life.
not by bread alone does man live, but by the word of Hashem. The maan was meant to strengthen us and to make us into a special people. The years in the desert toughened us up so that we never take our luxuries for granted.
For this reason Moshe told Aharon to preserve a sample of maan in a flask and keep it in the Holy ark. The Talmud tells us that in the days of the first Beit Hamikdash they would take the jar out and display it in the people. Not as an ancient artifact, but to remind us of the lessons that the maan stood symbolized.
The annual holiday of sukkot is meant to remind us of these lessons, just like the two challot on our Shabbos table every week.
Many people remember learning as a child that the maan could taste like anything that you wanted it to. I learned that midrash too, and I always wondered why it seemed to contradict an explicate verse in the Torah that says otherwise.
My answer is this was the strength of the Jewish people. In the first year of the desert they complained, but they soon understood the lesson and they got used to it. As families they sat together and as they ate the maan they were able to imagine it tasted like anything that they wanted. They ate consciously, appreciating every morsel, enjoying every bite. And they thanked Hashem for his kindness.
We no longer receive the maan, but the lesson is more important than ever. How fortunate are we to live in the time and place that we do. Let us be grateful, appreciate what we have, and be thankful to Hashem.