In our parasha Beshalach, we learn that just a month after the exodus from Egypt and miraculously walking into the Red Sea, among other miracles, the food our ancestors brought with them from Egypt ran out, and they complained to Moshe and Aaron expressing their despair in that moment.
“Who would let us die by the hand of God in the land of Egypt where we used to enjoy from pot of meat, eating bread until satisfaction, and why you brought us out into this desert to kill all of us in hunger?”
The suffering and slavery in Egypt suddenly seemed like a sweet history…
God’s answer to Moshe came immediately. He committed to feed them. He will rain down “Manna” for them from the sky, and thus they will no longer suffer from hunger, but under two conditions. The first condition was they will have to collect the Manna daily. Because it wouldn’t be preserved from one day to the next. And the second condition was that every Friday, they had to collect a ‘Mishne’, a double portion of Manna, one portion for Friday and the other for the next day, Shabbat.
Later in the story we read about people who tried to save manna for the next day, but the manna spoiled. We also read about those who wanted to challenge Moshe and went out on Shabbat morning to collect Manna from the desert, even though they were told to gather the Shabbat food on Friday.
That is why, in memory of the Manna miracle, we place on our Shabbat table, two loaves of bread called ‘Lehem Mishne’, a reminder that even if we don’t work on Shabbat, the sustenance will still come in one way or another.
The initial encounter with Shabbat was when the Israelites were instructed to prepare the Shabbat foods on Friday. Since then, it became one of the most prominent traditions among Jews, preparing food on Friday for Shabbat, and not on Shabbat itself. Fridays are dedicated, in many homes, to cooking and baking, sometimes in large quantities thinking about guests or the needy. On Shabbat itself the kitchen is not an arena of activity except arranging and serving the food to the table.
When we prepare for Shabbat, we are showing our appreciation for Shabbat and connecting ourselves to this holy day.
The Talmud tells us of Shammai, one of the greatest sages in the 1st century, that “all his days he lived in honor of Shabbat.” When he found a nice piece of food he would say “This is for Shabbat”. If he found another better piece, he consumed the previous one and kept the better portion for Shabbat. All he sought and lived for was toward Shabbat and in honor of Shabbat.
Thinking and caring about Shabbat during the weekdays brings to our days the aromas and feelings of Shabbat, together with its holiness and joy.
Rabbi Refael Cohen