D ayeinu. Sufficient. Enough. How likely is the average person living in the 21st century to describe his financial situation using these words? How often does he feel satisfied and content with what he has?

But no matter how much he feels he’s currently lacking, every human being has had at least one specific blissful interlude in this world.

“If only I were as in my early months, as in the days when Hashem watched over me” (Iyov 29:2). What idyllic experience does Iyov recall so longingly? The gemara (Niddah 30b) comments, “There are no better days than the days a person spends in his mother’s womb.” Iyov is referring to the prenatal months when both sustenance and Torah study came easily, for he ate of what his mother ate and drank of what his mother drank and was taught Torah by a malach.

Those days are reminiscent of the original state of man in Gan Eden, when all his material needs were provided. It was only after Adam’s sin that he was cursed with a dramatic change in his lifestyle: “B’zayas apecha tochal lechem — You shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow” (Bereishis 3:19).

Rabi Shimon ben Elazar comments (Kedushin 82b): “Do animals need to earn a living? Did you ever see a lion who had to become a porter; a deer, a farmer; or a fox, a storekeeper? They are sustained without investing any efforts, and they were created to serve me! Shouldn’t I, who was created to serve my Creator, also receive sustenance effortlessly? Yet, because I’ve corrupted my deeds, I’ve cut off my own sustenance.”

A rare exception to this rule was the 40 years of the Midbar journey — it echoed the prenatal state Iyov describes. The mahn fell daily from the heavens, the be’er supplied water, and the nation studied under the greatest of all transmitters of Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu.

Food from the Heavens

The mahn is the third of the matanos tovos, the gifts that Klal Yisrael enjoyed in the Midbar, joining the Clouds of Glory and the well. In an unprecedented command, Hashem told Moshe to place a jar of mahn next to the Aron in the Holy of Holies where it would remain for all time. The Mishkan was not a museum, and our leaders were not souvenir collectors, yet it was vital for future generations to have physical contact with the mahn.

Rashi tells us that Yirmiyahu HaNavi pointed to this preserved sample of the mahn when he reprimanded Klal Yisrael for not engaging in Torah study. When they questioned how they’d make a living if they devoted more time to Torah, he responded by showing them the jar of mahn. “See how your forefathers were sustained in the Midbar!” he said. “Hashem has many messengers to supply food to those who fear him.”

Yet one wonders how the mahn, a singular gift limited to the 40 years of the Midbar journey, sheds light on man’s universal quest for parnassah during his life’s journey. What do these vastly different experiences have in common?

Rav Dessler notes that perhaps the mahn wasn’t really that much different from our own sources of food. The Midrash describes the gift of mahn in detail: During the night, wind swept the desert floor clean, and rain washed it. Then dew fell on the ground, creating a gleaming tablecloth. The mahn descended, warm and ready to eat. Then another layer of dew covered it to protect it from dust and insects. The mahn was round, white, had an appealing aroma, and tasted sweet and delicious. Its natural flavor was milk for babies, bread for the young, and honey for older people. On Shabbos, it not only remained fresh from Friday, but its smell and appearance were even more attractive than on the weekdays.

In a similar vein, the seeds planted by a farmer grow and flourish even when we aren’t watching, just as the mahn fell while the nation slept. And like the mahn wrapped in dew, our vegetables and fruits are encased in protective coverings. Our daily food also smells and tastes good, and we can all attest that Shabbos enhances its flavor and aroma.

There are a number of additional similarities between the mahn and our food. The mahn had to be collected daily and it rotted quickly; similarly, our food has to be constantly produced and collected. Cows need to be milked daily, crops are cultivated yearly, and fruits and vegetables have to be picked ripe from the fields and consumed before they rot. By contrast, non-food items, such as minerals, don’t ripen and don’t spoil, although they too are sourced in the ground. Rav Pincus points out that bread, in particular, gets stale quickly — more quickly than cake, for example. It’s a daily need that must be continuously renewed.

If mahn and our food are indeed similar, the lessons of mahn can be directly applied to our lives. Thus, Rav Yerucham Levovitz tells us, the mahn actually symbolizes the sustenance of every person in every generation. What was obvious in the years of journeying through the midbar is far more subtle in our current life’s journey, but nevertheless true: The bread we eat today also comes from heaven.

As Rav Dessler puts it, the difference between a miraculous phenomenon and a natural process is sometimes a matter of frequency. If we always received bread from Heaven, and only once saw a plant grow from a seed, we’d think the plant is the miracle. The fact that we can plant a tiny seed in the ground and receive a bountiful crop is the greatest of wonders! 

Collecting Our Portion

The most enduring lesson of the mahn is that our parnassah does not depend on our own efforts, but on Hashem’s providence. This belief is one of the greatest challenges in our post-Gan Eden world, when we must expend much effort to earn our bread. We must constantly remind ourselves that Hashem doesn’t require our input and effort, for the mahn has taught us that He has many ways and resources, and more than enough food to sustain all of mankind. The mahn wasn’t traditional food, yet it sustained millions of people for 40 years. Much more fell each day than was utilized (the surplus melted and disappeared), and it offered infinite taste possibilities.

Most importantly, no matter how much mahn a person collected, he came home with the same measure as everyone else. This demonstrates that since Adam’s sin our efforts are necessary, but the amount we earn is predetermined by Hashem. We merely collect the portion He designated for us on Rosh Hashanah.

A fundamental passage in the Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 21) elucidates this: “A man could sit idly and the parnassah that is ordained for him would materialize, if not for the penalty that was imposed upon all men: “With the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” By Divine decree, a man is required to exert himself somewhat for his sustenance. This is a “tax” that must be paid by every member of the human race and cannot be avoided. His exertion does not produce the results, yet nonetheless it is necessary.”

The Midbar environment created a general state of vulnerability and dependence on Hashem; the mahn highlighted that dependence in a very prominent manner. One of the challenges of the mahn-eating generation was that they weren’t permitted to save mahn for the next day; if they did, it spoiled. “He Who created the present day has also created its sustenance,” Chazal remind us. The mahn provided real-life training in bitachon, in trusting that Hashem would create the next day and its sustenance.

When the Work’s All Done

On Shabbos, the rules changed, but the message remained the same. The mahn didn’t fall; the people ate from Friday’s bounty, for they discovered lechem mishneh, a double portion, in their baskets — without any extra effort on their part.

The timeless message of mahn regarding our hishtadlus, efforts, for parnassah is identical to that of Shabbos. The Torah states: “Six days shall you toil and complete all your work, and the seventh day shall be for Hashem” (Shemos 20:9-10). The Seforno teaches us that our attitude toward our six-day workweek is key to entering Shabbos with the serene knowledge that we’ve indeed completed all our work: “He shall engage in the toil of a day laborer, who works for his hourly wages, realizing that the world does not belong to him.”

A day-laborer is not the proprietor of the store. He doesn’t own the business. He works for his boss, puts in his hours, and then goes home to his family. He won’t stay open for a late customer, because he’s only paid until five. He doesn’t take home worries and plans for the business, because it doesn’t belong to him.

We, too, are day-laborers. We don’t own the world. The business is not our own, and we need not be overly concerned with running it. As the Mesillas Yesharim puts it: “Once one has exerted himself, he has fulfilled his duty and made room for Hashem’s blessing to rest upon him, and he need not consume his days in striving and exertion.” Rav Dessler adds that if earning a living is indeed a “tax” imposed upon us, why would we want to pay more “tax” than is necessary?

The mahn-eaters saw with unmistakable clarity that our efforts and exertions do not create parnassah, for those who gathered more and worked harder did not gain more than anyone else.

It’s the mahn attitude that allows us to enter Shabbos with serenity, without thinking about lost income. We really have finished all our work, because our work is not to accomplish, but to pay our “tax”— to put in the requisite effort for six days. Hashem pays our weekly salary. He doesn’t need our feeble input — on weekday or Shabbos — to deliver our parnassah. Rav Hirsch writes, “With the entry of each Shabbos, consider your work completed. For it is your Master Who then says to you: Enough! And if what you have done is enough for Him, it is enough for you.”

Enough. Dayeinu. With these words at the Pesach Seder, we express our appreciation for the many maalos tovos, wonderful favors that Hashem granted us in the early history of our nation. We cover the 15 stages of geulah, from Yetzias Mitzrayim to the building of the Beis Habechirah, and employ the refrain of dayeinu to proclaim that each stage is noteworthy on its own and sufficiently warrants our thanksgiving.

The Midbar takes prominent place in this song: Had He only supplied our needs in the Midbar for 40 years, and not fed us the mahn, it would have been sufficient. And then: Had He only fed us the mahn and not given us the Shabbos, dayeinu. Why is the mahn singled out? Is it not included among the other provisions in the Midbar?

Perhaps the mahn stands out because, in a sense, it didn’t fall for only 40 years. If we look to Hashem as the Ultimate Provider, we will be eating “mahn” at His table all the days of our lives. With a profound sense of dayeinu.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 570. Mrs. Shani Mendlowitz is a teacher at Bais Yaakov Seminary in Montreal, and is a popular lecturer for adults.