For the forty years the Jews spent in the desert, they subsisted on manna, the miraculous food that fell from heaven.

The manna has a special connection with Shabbat. On weekdays, every morning the manna would be found lying on the ground outside the camp. The people would gather it and eat it during the day; if they tried to keep it overnight, it would go moldy.

The miracle of the manna began on a Sunday morning. On the Friday of that week, when the people brought the manna back to their tents, each family found they had a double portion. Moses told them that this extra portion was for Shabbat. It would keep fresh over Friday night, and on Shabbat no one should go out to look for the manna. This was the first real opportunity for the Jewish people to keep Shabbat.

In memory of the manna, we have two challah loaves at the Shabbat table. The cloth over the loaves represents the layer of dew which covered it.

The sages tell us that all food on Shabbat is comparable to the manna. This miraculous substance came from an exalted spiritual realm; on Shabbat that realm, called by Kabbalists the “world of delight,” is revealed for all of us. Hence Shabbat has a remarkable quality: something essentially spiritual and sacred is experienced as the physical delight of a Jewish family in this world.

The Paradox of Prayer

There is something of Shabbat in every day of our lives. These are the moments of prayer, in which the paradox of Shabbat—spiritual nurture tasted as physical food—enters our lives.

We might be at home, or in the synagogue. We might be praying in Hebrew, or in another language. What are we trying to do when we pray?

One answer is: we are trying to come close to G‑d. Prayer is described as a ladder, which we try to ascend, drawing nearer to G‑d the Creator of All. In this quest we forget ourselves and our daily concerns.

A contrasting aspect of prayer is that we are asking G‑d to look after us and help us in the practical world: to heal us, protect us, give us food and sustenance.

How do these very different aspects of prayer fit together? The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, suggests that this is a general goal of Judaism: to reach for the more exalted and ethereal levels of Jewish experience, and to draw them down into our daily lives.

The fulfillment of reaching the upper rungs of the ladder of prayer comes when we draw that sense of holiness into the world of practicality. Do you remember Jacob’s dream? Our move towards G‑d is like the angels going up the ladder. Then comes the corresponding movement: the angels going down. Through this G‑d blesses us, giving us health, abundance and, ultimately, redemption.