The Hidden Trio
Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )
A substantial part of this Torah portion is devoted to the mon (manna) - how it fell, when it fell, and what it was like. One of the lesser-known aspects of the mon was that the verses describing its arrival were said to Moshe Rabbeinu on Shabbos itself. The verses dealing with the mon begin as follows:
They journeyed from Eilim, and all of the congregation of the Children of Yisrael came to the Sin wilderness, which is between Eilim and Sinai, on the fifteenth of the second month after their Exodus from Egypt. (Shemos 16:1)
The Gemara expounds:
That day was Shabbos, as it says, In the morning you will see the glory of God (ibid., 7). And it further says, For six days you shall gather it (ibid., 26). (Shabbos 87b)
It is not a coincidence that the giving of the mon occurred on Shabbos; there must be an intrinsic connection between them. Indeed, we find a well-known connection between mon and Shabbos: we eat lechem mishneh (two loaves) at each Shabbos meal to commemorate the double portion of mon which fell every Friday, one for Friday and one for Shabbos. On consideration, it would be more reasonable to have the double bread on Fridays, as that is when the extra portion actually fell. Since we do it on Shabbos itself, there must indeed be some connection between the two.
* * *
The mon fell in the merit of Moshe. (Ta'anis 9a)
Not only did klal Yisrael receive the mon in Moshe's merit, but he is even described as eating it himself. If we bear in mind the fact that the Sages tell us that Moshe is referred to as "the man" (perhaps because he was the paradigm of all men), we will realize that the following verse is referring to Moshe:
The man ate the bread of angels [mon]... (Tehillim 78:25)
So Moshe was commanded by God concerning the mon. His merit brought it to klal Yisrael, and he ate it himself. This means that Moshe himself was surely intrinsically connected to the idea behind the mon. So we now have a three-way correspondence to examine -- Shabbos, mon, and Moshe all appear to be linked.
My holy father pointed out that Moshe was quite a mysterious figure. As always, we may assume that the Hebrew name of a person is not just an arbitrary label, but it conveys a deep message about the nature of that person. Moshe himself was so spiritually developed that we actually know nothing about him at all; he functioned at a completely different level from that of the rest of humanity. When he was named, we learn that Pharaoh's daughter:
...named him Moshe, for she said, "I have drawn him out of the water." (Shemos 2:10)
According to the Maharal, this verse is most revealing. He explains that everything in the physical world starts life as chomer (raw material), examples of which are wood, wool, and stone. To make the item more useful, we impose a tzurah (form) upon it; that is, we make the wood into a bookcase or table, the stone into a wall. The tzurah is a more developed, sophisticated entity, while the chomer is raw, unchanneled material. Water is the paradigm of chomer, for it has absolutely no tzurah at all. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it is placed in, spreading to fill the space available.
This concept has its parallel in the spiritual domain - coarse, spiritually undeveloped things are associated with chomer, while sophisticated and channeled things, with tzurah. In spiritual terms, Moshe Rabbeinu was the most perfectly developed person ever to have lived. As such, his personality was very tzurah-oriented and the least chomer-inclined that it is possible to be. This is inherent in his name: he was called Moshe because he was drawn out of the water, that is, totally and utterly separated from any trace of chomer, of which water is the epitome. As he was so divorced from normal physicality, his essence was unknowable.
* * *
Why was the mon so called? The verses tell us:
The Children of Yisrael saw, and each said to his brother, "It is mon." For they did not know what it was...(Shemos 16:15)
It is mon - this word translates as "what" in Egyptian, for this was their vernacular... (Rashbam loc. cit.)
When klal Yisrael saw the mon, they could not express what they perceived. It was a food of angels (as we saw above) something which the average person could not understand. It was, then, essentially a food described by the negative - its very name means "we don't know what it is."
It should be obvious that every creature, man, or beast requires food suited to its particular physical makeup; in general, the more sophisticated the being, the more sophisticated is the food it requires. The mon was thus the perfect food for Moshe. Moshe's essence was hidden beyond human ken, as was that of the mon (the bread of angels), and, of course, that was why klal Yisrael received it in Moshe's merit.
* * *
ADDING SHABBOS TO THE EQUATION
If we look closely, we will see that this common factor is also apparent in Shabbos. Every yom tov has a name which clearly reflects its aim, content, or historical origin. Pesach means "passing over," for it is the time when God passed over the houses of klal Yisrael in Egypt. Rosh HaShanah is "the head of the year," and Sukkos is the time when we sit in sukkos (booths). This pattern is broken only by Shabbos, whose name merely means "rest." This name does not attempt to convey anything about what one does on Shabbos or anything about its historical roots. All we are told is that Shabbos is a day on which one may not do melachah (constructive labor). Note that this is a negative definition - Shabbos is a day on which one must not do something.
Once again, we see the unknowable aspect of our subject highlighted by its very name. Indeed, our Sages tell us that we cannot really understand the greatness or holiness of Shabbos, for it is beyond our limited comprehension:
The gift of its reward is not given to be revealed. (Beitzah 16a)
The innate connection between mon, Moshe, and Shabbos is now clear - each is unknowable in some very profound sense. The links are now complete: the mon was given on Shabbos via Moshe (who is himself described as a mon eater), for each is intrinsically connected to the other two. These three entities portray the unfathomable in the three primary domains - time, space, and the human soul: Shabbos in time, mon in space, and Moshe in the human soul.
* * *
THE LAST LINK
To finish, we will note a well-known midrash:
Moshe saw that klal Yisrael had no rest in Egypt, so he went to Pharaoh and said, "If someone owns a slave but doesn't give him one day a week to rest, the slave will die. So, too, if you don't give your slaves one day a week to rest, they will die." Pharaoh agreed, and Moshe selected Shabbos as that rest day. (Based on Shemos Rabbah 1:28)
We may have assumed that Moshe chose Shabbos, as he knew that this was God's chosen rest day, and this would have been the action taken by any great Jewish leader. This is true, but it omits one factor: Moshe and Shabbos are intrinsically linked. Moshe Rabbeinu had to be the one who chose Shabbos as the day of rest for klal Yisrael, for he and it were forever linked. It was not by chance that he merited to commence the observance of Shabbos, as it was not by chance that he merited to bring the mon to klal Yisrael.