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This is the thing that Hashem has commanded, gather from it for every man according to what he eats, an omer per person, according to the number of your souls, everyone according to whomever is in his tent shall you take (Shemos 16:16).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the ma’an. Everyday each individual would gather a portion of heavenly bread. The phenomenon of ma’an was nothing less then miraculous. Indeed, the Hebrew letters of the word ma’an are mem and nun, an acronym for ma’aseh nissim, a miraculous act.
The commentators note that the above posuk which command the Jewish people to gather a precise portion of ma’an contains every letter of the aleph beis. There is only one other posuk in the Torah that similarly has every letter of the aleph beis. It is found in parshas Va’eschanan. The posuk there says “Or has any god ever performed miracles to come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation, with challenges, with signs and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with greatly awesome deeds such as everything that Hashem your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes (Devarim 4:34). It is noteworthy that there as well, the posuk makes mentions of the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people.
What is the symbolic significance that only these two posukim contain every letter of the aleph beis?
Chazal tell us that the letters of the aleph beis are symbolic of the study of Torah. Indeed, the Gemara tells us that the letters of the aleph beis stand for aloph binah, which means “learn understanding,” a reference to the study of Torah.
We may suggest that these two posukim teach us that Hashem miraculously sustains us only in the merit of the study of Torah. The difference between the two posukim is that our parsha focuses on the individual whereas the posuk in Va’eschanan focuses on the nation as a whole.
In our parsha the Torah shows us how Hashem provided sustenance for each and every individual. The posuk says, “an omer per person” It includes every letter of the aleph beis to underscore that sustenance was provided only in the merit of Torah study. In parshas Va’eschanan the Torah tells us how Hashem performed miracles for the Jewish people as a whole. Here the focus is the nation. The words of the posuk are “a nation from amidst a nation.” Again here the Torah includes every letter of the aleph beis to indicate that these miracles were only performed in the merit of Torah study.
There are people who believe that it is worthwhile to support institutions and programs that advance the study of Torah. However some of these people also feel that it is not important for each and every individual to devote time to the study of Torah. On the other hand there are those who believe that it is important for every individual to study Torah but not worthwhile enough that the community support institutions devoted to its study. We learn from these two posukim that both attitudes are wrong. It is essential that both the individual and the community devote themselves to the study Torah. It is only in its merit that Hashem miraculously sustain us.
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In this week’s parsha we read the song that Moshe and the Jewish people sang after Hashem split the sea of reeds and saved them from the Egyptians. For this reason this week’s parsha is customarily called Shabbos shirah, the Shabbos of song. There is an ancient Jewish custom to distribute food to the birds this Shabbos. Preferably, this is to be done before Shabbos so as not to violate the prohibition of feeding animals that one is not responsible for on Shabbos. The commentators provide many reasons for this custom. Let us present a few and suggest one of our own.
The Maharal explains that we distribute food to the birds as a reminder that they also sang to Hashem when the Jewish people were saved from the Egyptians.
Other commentators explain that we have a tradition that when the Jewish people passed through the sea, children plucked fruits that miraculously grew in the sea and distributed them to the birds. We remind ourselves of this tradition by distributing food to the birds or having the children do so when we read this parsha.
Others explain as follows: Moshe told the Jewish people that on Friday they should gather a double portion of ma’an because no ma’an would fall on Shabbos. Early Shabbos morning Dasan and Aviram went out and distributed ma’an that they had saved. Their intent was that when the people would wake up, go outside and see the ma’an they would call Moshe a liar. This would weaken Moshe’s authority among the people. This tragedy was prevented when the birds came and ate up the ma’an before the Jewish people woke up and had a chance to come outside. In recognition of their good deed we feed them every year at this time.
Let us suggest another reason for this custom.
In parshas Lech Lecha we learn about the bris bein habisarim. Avraham asked Hashem, “How do I know that my descendents would inherit Eretz Yisroel.” Hashem said;
“Take to Me three heifers and three goats and three rams and a turtledove and a fledgling. He took all these to Him and he cut them in the center and placed each piece opposite its counterpart; but the bird he did not cut up. (Bereishis 15:9-10)
Shortly after Hashem said to Avraham,
“Know with certainty that your offspring shall be sojourners in a land not their own, they will enslave then and they will oppress them four hundred years and also the nation that will enslave them I shall punish and afterwards they shall leave with great possessions” (Bereishis 15:13).
Rashi explains that the animals represent the nations of the world. The bird represents the Jewish people. The splitting of the animals is symbolic that the nations of the world who oppress the Jewish people will perish. The bird that was not cut up represents the survival of the Jewish people.
The splitting of the animals and the survival of the bird was a symbolic representation of Hashem’s words. Although the Jewish People would be oppressed by the Egyptians for four hundred years they will survive. Their enemies are the ones who will perish.
In this week’s parsha we read about the splitting of the sea, the destruction of the Egyptian people and the survival of the Jewish people. We read about the fulfillment of the bris bein habisarim. The four hundred years have come to an end. Hashem has punished the Egyptians. The symbolic splitting of the animals has now been fulfilled at least with regard to the Egyptians. The Jewish people have survived. The symbolic fulfillment of “but the bird he did not cut up” has also been fulfilled. This week we distribute food to the birds as a reminder that Hashem’s promise has been fulfilled. “The bird he did not cut up.” The Jewish people will always survive.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2005