by Rabbi Rafi M. Cohen, Alumni Relations -- Office of Institutional Advancement
Posted 01/24/2018 08:00AM

Parashat Beshalach tells the story of the manna – the food on which the Israelites survived during their wilderness years. God spoke to Moses saying, "I will rain down bread from Heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” (Shemot 16:4)

One common understanding of the manna is that there was just enough for every day, and on the sixth day – Friday – there was a double portion so the Israelites would have sufficient supplies going into Shabbat and would have no need to gather on Shabbat.

Included in the verse is the indication that God was somehow testing the Israelites. How was this a test and why? After all, how difficult is it to gather manna? It falls from the sky, or Heaven; you see it; you collect it. Rather, we are meant to understand that the manna was only partially provided to the Israelites and in order for the people to benefit, they had to step forward and gather it for themselves. Like many things in life, only so much is done for us – a valuable lesson at any stage of our lives.

Reflecting on her time as a student at Schechter Westchester, a senior recently remarked in her senior drasha that many things are often done for the students at SW, although looking ahead, she anticipates college as a time for her and her peers to do things for themselves. Like many of her classmates, she recognizes the growth opportunity that exists when choices are before you.

How do you strike a balance between expecting something to be done for you when that is what you are used to (i.e. the Israelites as slaves relied upon their masters) and procuring for yourself? The distinction is one that comes to mind since last week when we observed the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader was known for, among other things, saying “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” Freedom for the Israelites came, as it does for each of us, with the blessing of choice and the necessity to step forward and act when the time comes, if not before. 

Shabbat Shalom

These words by Rabbi Yishmael, which reflect the essence of our mission, are found in Pirkei Avot. They advise us to lead lives filled with learning, teaching, preservation of our heritage, and social action.

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