What we learned in the desert

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By Tzippy Ross

This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16.


This week’s parshah is a transition when B’nai Yisrael leave behind their lives as slaves and travel to their ultimate goal of receiving the Torah.

In focusing on the story of the man, or manna, we see how dramatically B’nai Yisrael change in both their appreciation of their daily needs, as well as how they view time. Hashem explicitly tests their faith in whether they will accept the Torah.

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Hashem says, “Behold I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion — that I may test them, to see whether they will follow My Torah or not” [Exodus 16:4].

What is the nature of this test? If B’nai Yisrael wish to eat, they will need to go daily to the field to collect the manna. This is not just a task to be completed to fill their stomachs. Collecting their food will be a daily reinforcement of their faith. Rashbam explains that, since each day their eyes will be dependent on Hashem, from the act of gathering the manna, they will believe in Him and follow His Torah.


But it is not enough for B’nai Yisrael to gather man each day. There are several rules that apply to this miracle: namely, how much they can take, that they cannot leave any overnight and that they cannot take any on Shabbat.

In discussing the test of the manna, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that by having to go into the field to collect each morning, they learn diligence and hard work. By only taking enough for one day, they learn a powerful lesson of emunah, or faith.

Tied into this episode is the first mention of Shabbat since Creation. B’nai Yisrael receive a double portion on Friday, a portion that does not spoil and is waiting to be consumed on Shabbat. While the rest of the week, they only eat what they labored for on that day, for Shabbat, they must labor on the day before so they can have complete rest.

This is another display of faith. During their years as slaves, B’nai Yisrael did not have control over their own time. They worked when they were told to and they rested when they were told to. By accepting Shabbat and refraining from creative work, B’nai Yisrael acknowledge that how one uses time also shows belief in Hashem. Unlike the way they followed their earthly masters in Egypt, here in the desert, they show adherence to the Creator of the entire world.

In the 21st century, we can use the lessons of faith and value of time as well. With the many demands in our own lives, we may feel like we do not control our own time. Perhaps a daily act to reassert our faith — whether that is learning, davening or chesed, an act of kindness — can elevate our time and make it something holy.

Tzipora (Fredman) Ross is Judaic studies coordinator at Ramaz Middle School, in New York. Made available by Ohr Torah Stone in Efrat.

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