We Have Just Enough: Gathering Manna in the Wilderness

As I sit down to draft this week's message, I pray that you and yours are okay, and weathering this current wave of the pandemic with as much ease and comfort as possible. We know that so many of you have been isolating with Covid or quarantining because of exposure, and others dealing with school closures, work disruptions, and mental health challenges. Please know that the Kavana community is here and intact (even if our activities are online for the next few weeks!); we're all moving through this turbulent time together. If you need support, please don't hesitate to reach out through the Kavana office or to me directly.

Wow, this is such a wild ride of a time -- it just feels like too much!!

As I sit down to draft this week's message, I pray that you and yours are okay, and weathering this current wave of the pandemic with as much ease and comfort as possible. We know that so many of you have been isolating with Covid or quarantining because of exposure, and others dealing with school closures, work disruptions, and mental health challenges. Please know that the Kavana community is here and intact (even if our activities are online for the next few weeks!); we're all moving through this turbulent time together. If you need support, please don't hesitate to reach out through the Kavana office or to me directly.

On the calendar too, this week feels like it offers an abundance of themes to highlight... so many that it almost feels like drinking from a fire-hose!

  • This is the week of Shabbat Shira and Parashat Beshallach, where we read of the crossing of the sea and celebrate liberation through the Song of the Sea.
  • We are also moving towards Tu BiShevat (Sunday night/Monday), which has me thinking about trees and potential growth, sowing seeds for future generations and the urgency of addressing climate change.
  • In the coming week, we will also pause to remember the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr... even as we continue engaging in the struggle for civil rights in our day, through voting rights and criminal justice reform.

Even with all of these important themes -- and below you'll see many opportunities to engage programmatically with all of them! -- I want to direct our focus to a different section in our parasha.

After the Israelites cross the sea and find themselves in the wilderness, God sends manna to feed the hungry people. The Torah introduces the manna like this: "In the morning, there was a fall of dew about the camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, 'What is it?' ('man hu?') - for they did not know what it was" (Ex. 16:13-15).

The Torah goes on to explain -- and midrashim and commentaries abound on these themes -- that manna is a magical food. It will sustain each person according to their individual needs and tastes; it will last longer on Shabbat than on other days of the week; it can be gathered but not hoarded.

The Israelites' arrival in the wilderness must have been jarring and disorienting on so many levels at once. All of a sudden, they find that the ground beneath them has shifted, both literally and figuratively. As cruel as Pharaoh's oppression must have been, slavery also brought with it a kind of dependence and stability. Now, with manna, their impulse is to gather as much as they can for self-preservation. And yet, manna just doesn't work that way! As Rabbi Shai Held writes in his essay on this parasha in The Heart of Torah, through manna, "the people are being taught a new way of being, and a new way of receiving." Through manna, they are "learning to trust."

This message resonates deeply for me as we find ourselves in our own wilderness right now. Again, in the words of Rabbi Held, "Religion is about many things -- one of them is the aspiration to surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency. We need God, and we need other people. Because we are human, and therefore embodied and fragile, the question, ultimately, is not whether we will be dependent, but on whom."

This points to everything we do at Kavana, actually... showing up to be in community with one another; to sing and to learn and to pray together; to care deeply and tangibly for one another; to march together, prune trees together, lobby together, and demand justice together. Because we are human, and therefore embodied and fragile, we need one another, and we have the power to uplift one another in holy ways and to create a better world together.

In this week of too much, may we all find ways to be comfortably dependent, on God and on one another. May we all come to realize that, in fact, we have just enough, and exactly what we need to traverse this wilderness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum