After the daily morning service, most prayer books have a variety of additional prayers. One of them is Parshas HaMan, the section of the Torah that introduces the manna, miracle food from the sky that appeared when the Jewish People were starving and needed it most.
Our sages associate this story with the power of our livelihood and sustenance – Parnassa.
It’s a prayer people take extremely seriously as a ritual for merit as it relates to our livelihood, and with good reason. Financial insecurity is one of the most elemental and basic fears a human can have. It originates in the lizard brain; all animals fear going hungry.
The Beis Yosef says it’s a good thing to say every day, and Rabbeinu Bachya adds that whoever says it daily is guaranteed never to lack a livelihood. R’ Menachem Mendel of Rimanov established the popular custom of saying it on the Tuesday afternoon of Parshas Beshalach, the section it appears in, with a similar promise.
A sizeable number of people believe in the custom and that saying the prayer is their golden ticket to a million or a billion, or in other words, ultimate security.
But if we take a closer read of the story on its terms, we might be surprised by what it has to say to us.
First of all, the way the the story presents itself is that the Creator states at the outset that what will follow is a test of faith – הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר־יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ לְמַעַן אֲנַסֶּנּוּ הֲיֵלֵךְ בְּתוֹרָתִי אִם־לֹא.
A big part of the test is to take only what your family needs – לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁ לְפִי אכְלוֹ עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת מִסְפַּר נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אִישׁ לַאֲשֶׁר בְּאהֳלוֹ תִּקָּחוּ.
Our animal instinct resists the notion of taking only enough for today; it wants to be acquisitive and gather a stockpile just in case. But however much or little people took, it was only ever just enough – וַיַּעֲשׂוּ־כֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּלְקְטוּ הַמַּרְבֶּה וְהַמַּמְעִיט. וַיָּמֹדּוּ בָעֹמֶר וְלֹא הֶעְדִּיף הַמַּרְבֶּה וְהַמַּמְעִיט לֹא הֶחְסִיר אִישׁ לְפִי־אכְלוֹ לָקָטוּ.
What’s more, people ignored the explicit instruction against holding and stockpiling, and gather more than they needed – just in case! But it turned rotten and maggoty overnight – וְלֹא־שָׁמְעוּ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וַיּוֹתִרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִמֶּנּוּ עַד־בֹּקֶר וַיָּרֻם תּוֹלָעִים וַיִּבְאַשׁ וַיִּקְצֹף עֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה.
R’ Meilich Biderman highlights how Dasan and Aviram, the ever-present villains throughout, try to be sneaky and gather a second helping of manna. Apart from their rebellious act being pointless because the manna goes bad, R’ Meilich points out how short-sighted and plain stupid it is, even beyond the context of magic sky food.
Because if there’s no fresh manna, then in the best case, they have enough to get them through tomorrow. Then what? What about the day after? They have broken the rules, acted selfishly and faithlessly, and aren’t any better off; they still live with the same structural uncertainty as anyone else, with only the imagined safety of perhaps a day or two because that’s just how life works.
The story reminds us about the need to put in a certain amount of work every day – וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר־יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ.
It reminds us that working on Shabbos is fruitless – שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תִּלְקְטֻהוּ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לֹא יִהְיֶה־בּוֹ׃ וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יָצְאוּ מִן־הָעָם לִלְקֹט וְלֹא מָצָאוּ.
Ever since Adam was cursed to work at the sweat of his brow, and today arguably more than ever, humans have had to grapple with hustle culture, the idea that working long hours and sacrificing self-care are required to succeed. The Chafetz Chaim reminds us that people who collected more or less weren’t better or worse off than each other; everyone had just enough – וְלֹא הֶעְדִּיף הַמַּרְבֶּה וְהַמַּמְעִיט לֹא הֶחְסִיר אִישׁ לְפִי־אכְלוֹ לָקָטוּ.
We would do well to remind ourselves that our opportunities never come from where we expect and rarely do they look how we expect – וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל־אָחִיו מָן הוּא כִּי לֹא יָדְעוּ מַה־הוּא.
R’ Meilich Biderman reminds us that the nature of this story is likened to rain – הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם. Humans don’t have the power to make it rain at all, much less the ability to make it rain in a particular amount or moment; act accordingly. All you can control is inputs; making a given amount of money isn’t within reach, but making ten phone calls is.
Taking an abstract view of this story, there are clear and relevant lessons we can conclude from a straightforward reading of Parshas HaMan. Perhaps the most significant part of the test represented by the manna is that it doesn’t solve for security at all; quite the opposite. It invites us to live securely within the insecurity – אַל־יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנּוּ עַד־בֹּקֶר.
Reciting the prayer, or just reading the story, is an affirmation of where our security comes from; Above. It affirms what we have to do daily – do the work to take care of your family, but don’t take someone else’s portion. It affirms that you must do enough for today and be hopeful for tomorrow because there is no blessing to be found in hoarding today’s resources.
This story probably doesn’t have the power to give you riches, but it might provide you with something some of the richest have only ever dreamed of; enough.
On your quest to be the rainmaker, remind yourself regularly Who makes it rain.