Some facts about the manna: it looked like a small, round, white seed. It descended at night, sandwiched between two layers of dew. It tasted like your favorite food. It produced no waste, encapsulating its eater's nutritional needs so precisely that after the body absorbed what it needed there was nothing left. (This last fact make some of the Israelites a bit queasy about their "bread from heaven.")

Shortly after the manna started coming down, we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. For the next four decades we traversed the desert, eating the manna and learning Torah. That's basically all we did (when we weren't getting into trouble). The Midrash sees a direct connection between our diet and our occupation, stating that "The Torah could be given only to eaters of manna."

After forty years of manna and Torah, we crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Torah study remained a full-time occupation for only the tribe of Levi (and for select individuals from other tribes). Everyone else got down to the business of earning a living as farmers and merchants. The manna stopped, and we switched to "bread from earth" — dusky, bulky, square bread — the kind whose nutrients and vitamins are packaged in disposable filler. The kind that gets digested rather than absorbed.

Life is mostly waste.

We spend all day working for the money, an hour shopping, another hour cooking, a few minutes eating. And where does the food go? Most of it passes right through our bodies and into the city's sewer system.

We're given 24 hours per day, the overwhelming majority of which is spent sleeping, commuting, looking for parking, waiting on line, sifting through the mail, listening to speeches, making excuses, making small talk, making a deposit, making a withdrawal... And then, in those five minutes that we're actually doing something, half the time it comes out all wrong!

In fact, we're so used to dealing with waste, that even when we're handed something that's 100% pure gold, we start taking it apart, looking for some dross to get rid of. We look for faults in the soul of a loved one, for hidden agendas in the most beautiful friendships, for the "other side" in the most righteous of causes. Even goodness itself is judged too good to be true.

This is why, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, "The Torah could be given only to eaters of manna." A nation of bread eaters would have immediately embarked on a "digestion" process. "Love your fellow as yourself" — they would have said — that's clean, nutritious stuff; but "Keep the Shabbat"? not practical in this day and age. They would have separated the PC parts from the "primitive" parts, the feel-good parts from the I'm-not-comfortable-with-that parts, the "historical facts" from the "folklore," the "scientifically corroborated" parts from the esoteric, the "rituals" from the "restrictions", etc. etc.

Our world needs its bread-eaters. We need to know to discern, to embrace the good and reject the bad, to make moral choices. But we also need to know when to get out of digestion mode. To recognize when, in a rare moment of grace, G‑d bestows upon us a gift of unadulterated goodness and perfection. To open ourselves to His Torah, and allow its totality to nourish us like the manna that it is.