Josh Buchin: Co-Dean of Students; Jewish Studies Teacher 

A lot happens in this week’s Torah Portion, Beshalach. The Israelites finally leave Egypt, escape across the Red Sea, and begin their long journey through the desert. While in the desert, the Israelites are provided with manna, a magical substance that nourishes them throughout their time wandering towards the Promised Land. As it says in this week’s Torah Portion, 

“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” (Exodus 16:13 – 14).

There are many midrashim, Rabbinic teachings, about this mysterious “fine and flaky substance,” that appeared on the ground. Our tradition tells us that it tasted like honey, or that it tasted like something fried in oil, or that it tasted like whatever the eater desired, or that it had many different tastes and colors. 

Rashi (​​Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, an 11th-century French Rabbi), quoting the Talmud, beautifully writes that “the dew fell upon the ground and the Manna fell upon it, and then dew fell again upon this, and so it was as though it were carefully packed in a chest.”

Haamek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, a 19th century Polish Rabbi) compares the manna to a seed that “looked like a peapod,” telling us that an equal amount would fall for everyone, regardless of age, but the pods would contain a different amount of food inside, corresponding to the different appetite of the specific person who it fell for.

Clearly, we are dealing with something magical and wondrous here! What are we to make of all these strange and beautiful teachings about manna? Manna is one of the great miracles in the tradition, and yet visually it is almost easy to ignore it. It looked like dew, after all. 

The Exodus narrative is full of big miracles: the Burning Bush, the 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea. But manna is different. Manna is a small, almost hard to notice miracle, nothing flashy like a bush on fire or waters parting. It resembled dew, something that we hardly ever give second thought to! And, yet, manna was essential for the survival and nourishment of the Israelites during their time in the desert. 

This text can serve as a reminder to us that miracles, like everything else in life, take many forms. Some of these miracles are more obvious than others. We should work to be grateful for the small miracles in life as well as the big ones. Life is often made up of small things, and even if these small blessings are hard to notice, they can be like manna, consistent and essential for our existence. So what are the small miracles in your own life that you may be overlooking? What are the blessings that occur every day? This week, I urge you to take time to be grateful for the small blessings that, like dew, are all around us and, perhaps, go unnoticed!