Parashat B’shalah/Shabbat Shirah/Tu BiSh’vat
“And the Almighty blessed the Seventh Day and sanctified it; for it was then that God rested from all God’s labors that the Almighty had created to do.” (Gen. 2:3)
Fast forward to our Torah reading, in which, after lying dormant for millennia, the Sabbath Day finally awakens again. How does this happen?
The Israelites have left Egypt and marched to freedom under God’s mighty protection. Leaving their Egyptian pursuers behind, they enter the open wilderness. To answer their need for sustenance God sends them “bread from heaven” (Ex. 16:4) – called “manna.” And then God explains that this heavenly gift, meant to satisfy every person’s hunger, will fall from the skies everyday – except for Shabbat. The manna will fall each day and will be edible for only that day. It cannot be hoarded for another time. But on Friday a double portion will rain down from heaven, enough for two days, and the food will not spoil, so that the Israelites can enjoy a Sabbath day of rest, their food already prepared.
This is the first appearance of the Shabbat since the first days of Creation. That first Shabbat was God’s alone. There is no record of God commanding the first humans to observe it. The nature of that first Shabbat is shrouded in mystery. What can it mean, after all, to say that God “rested”? The Sages asked further questions – What can it mean to say that God” blessed” the Shabbat? And what can it mean to say that God “sanctified” it? One answer, the one chosen by Rashi as he commented on that verse in Genesis, is that God “blessed Shabbat with the manna and God sanctified Shabbat with the manna.”
This tells us that God was planning all along to present this special day to human beings – to us – as soon as we would be ready for it. So, as soon as we leave Egypt, even before we receive the Torah, we are given the gift of Shabbat. And that gift is manifested in terms of “blessing” and “sanctification” in the tangible phenomenon of the manna.
How is the manna a blessing for Shabbat when it does not occur on Shabbat, and how is it a vehicle for its sanctification? The blessing of Shabbat inheres in the manna because the manna’s existence is programmed by God to allow human beings to respect Shabbat as a day of rest. It will not fall on Shabbat so as not to necessitate the human labor of gathering it. And Shabbat is sanctified by the manna in the enduring property of the manna (- or is it the preservative property of Shabbat, herself?) to last through that holy day and not spoil (as it would on any other day).
With our freedom God showers us with heavenly gifts. The manna is one of them. But so is the Shabbat, long stored up for God’s exclusive enjoyment, and now also bestowed upon Israel. The manna, the physical sustenance granted by God, is given in such a way as to preserve the unique quality of Shabbat as a day of rest and spiritual sustenance. Our freedom, left unfettered, will spoil. It is preserved and enhanced through respecting the gift and demand of holiness.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu BiSh’vat,
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein