Manna as Social Justice

Yesterday: -25C in Toronto with the wind chill; the streets covered with a patina of frost.
We must melt that frost.
Tomorrow: Jews read the Biblical portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16).
The parashah is also known as the “Shabbat Shira,” associated with the “Song of the Sea”
sung by Moses, Miriam, and all the Israelites after Pharoah’s charioteers were drowned.

When the Israelites begin their trek across the Sinai to the borders of Canaan, in the fifth
aliyah we read that Moses obtained water in Marah. The sixth aliyah (Exodus 16:11-
16:36) focuses on the manna that God delivers from heaven. In the seventh aliyah of the
parshah, Moses strikes a rock to once again get fresh water. Between the two walls of salt
water in the Reed Sea that drowned the Egyptian army, the dark places of the earth filled
with dens of violence were deposited (Psalms 74:20). By contrast, the story of manna is
located between two tales of fresh spring water. Enemies were slain by dividing the sea;
the Jewish people are revitalized and united by receiving manna and social justice.

For the Israelites, who obtained their freedom from bondage in Egypt, must still be taught
the relationship between hard work and distributive justice. Acquired wealth is irrelevant.
Everyone must work according to their capacities to gather the manna. “They gathered,
both the one who gathered much and the one who gathered little” (Exodus 16:16).

The gatherers are not allowed to keep all they gather; what is acquired must be
redistributed so that everyone receives a minimum sustaining portion. Now, the primary
issue is not the fear of restoring oppression of the Israelites by others, but the freedom
from oppression among themselves. The people must ensure sufficiency for all! We are
commanded not to forget the life of the poor, not let “the downtrodden be forgotten”.
(Psalms 74:21) On this principle the various tribes of Israel are brought together.

That is the lesson of the recent Israeli election. Jews must ensure social justice for all
(including Israeli Arabs) as a precondition of unity and confronting enemies. Hopefully,
all 120 members of the Knesset will unite on the principles of social justice. The
Israelites did not know what the manna from heaven was (Exodus 16:15). It is the bread
of social justice, a fine bare and rare substance, a thin and delicate layer encased in hoar
frost and dew. The layer of ice covering our hearts must melt and evaporate. Social
justice is a precondition of continuity, though one omer, a token of manna needs to be
preserved as a testament for future generations. (“Let one omer of it be kept throughout
the ages, in order that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness when I
brought you out from the land of Egypt.” Exodus 16:32) But, unlike the gold and jewels
with which the Israelites fled, social justice is not something you normally save up. It
becomes putrid. Social justice cannot be postponed for another day.

Except for shabbat! For on Friday we receive a double portion of manna. The second half
is held over to sustain everyone one extra day. For on shabbat, all of us, even the richest
among us, needs to receive the white coriander seed that tastes like a honey-covered
wafer from an Other and become a recipient as well as beneficiary of social justice.

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