Bread from Heaven, Bread from the Earth

When1 G‑d promised Moshe that the manna would descend, He said:2 “I am going to rain down bread for you from heaven. The people will go out and gather each day’s portion on that day, so that I may test whether they will follow My teaching or not.”

The description of the manna as “bread from heaven” highlights its difference from “bread from the earth.”3 “Bread from the earth” is produced through man’s work. He makes a medium4 using natural means (plowing, sowing, and the like) and via that medium G‑d provides bread, which signifies all of man’s needs. “Bread from heaven,” by contrast, does not depend on a medium made by natural means. Man has nothing to do with its descent.

Understandably, each of these types of “bread” evokes a different response. When man produces “bread from the earth,” G‑d’s blessing is enclothed in the natural medium that he has prepared. Now, the person realizes that his work is only a medium for G‑d’s blessing.5 Moreover, he makes this natural medium not because he considers nature as important, but only because this is G‑d’s will and command,6 for the Torah promises that7 “G‑d will bless you in all that you do,” not when you sit idle.8

Nevertheless, since in actual fact this type of bread comes “from the earth,” through the earthy garment of nature that is dependent on the person’s work and efforts, it is more likely that he will attach some import to his own input in earning his livelihood.

When, by contrast, bread descends from heaven, man’s efforts are not at all involved.9 As such, its descent motivates man to rely on G‑d entirely.

A Gift and a Test

On this basis, we can understand the intent of the statement that the manna was given “so that I may test whether they will follow My teaching or not.”2 Rashi interprets that phrase as meaning, “whether they will observe the mitzvos associated with it or not.” Those mitzvos were: not to leave any manna from one day for the next, and not to go out to gather it on Shabbos.

The manna was given in order to arouse — and thereby test — the people’s consummate trust in G‑d, for it demonstrates that man’s food, like all his needs, comes from G‑d alone, without any manmade medium. Complete trust means that a person must not provide his needs for the next day (“not to leave any…”). Thus, on the phrase “each day’s portion on that day,” the Midrash states:10 “Implied is that He Who created the day also created that day’s sustenance.” From this, R. Eliezer HaModa’i concluded that “whoever has what to eat today and asks, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ is lacking in faith.”

Rain and Dew

In principle, “bread from heaven” is not dependent on man’s work. That is why the manna descended together with the dew,11 which “never ceases,”12 for dew, likewise, does not depend on man’s Divine service.13 Nevertheless, the manna did involve a certain measure of effort on man’s part. As our Sages relate,14 “The manna descended at the entrance of the dwellings of the righteous; those of intermediate spiritual standing had to go out and collect it; and the wicked had to ‘roam and gather’15 it.” Thus not only the wicked, but also the intermediates had to expend some effort in going out to gather the manna. And even the righteous, upon whose doorstep the manna fell, had at least the minimal difficulty of picking it up.

Moreover, the distinction between the efforts required from each of the three groups indicates that the blessing of manna was not entirely unlinked to the Divine service of the various recipients — unlike dew, which comes to all equally, without any distinction. Rather, there was a certain correlation to the extent that the recipients were worthy of receiving the manna. Thus, the righteous required a minimal effort; the intermediates, more, and the wicked, even more.

This distinction enables us to appreciate the preciseness of the wording, “I am going to rain down bread for you from heaven,” whereas later16 the Torah describes the manna as descending “with the descent of the dew.” From an inner, spiritual perspective, the two phrases appear to conflict. Rain refers to influence from above that is aroused by Divine service here on the earthly plane, just as the actual physical descent of rain depends on (to borrow a phrase)17 “a mist ascend[ing] from the earth.” Why then is the “bread from heaven” described as raining down, when it does not come in response to man’s Divine service?18

The resolution is as above: In principle, “bread from heaven” is a mode of influence which, like dew, transcends the Divine service of the recipient. Nevertheless, it descends into this realm in a manner resembling rain and is somewhat linked to the Divine service of the recipient.19

Navigating the Transition

The manna — “bread from heaven” — prepared the Jews for their entry into the Land of Israel, where the norm would be “bread from the earth.” The gift of manna clearly demonstrated to them that G‑d alone provided them with their livelihood and satisfied all their needs. This awareness prepared them and enabled them, even when they arrived in “a settled land”20 and made the transition to the norm of “bread from the earth,” not to forget that “it is He Who gives you the power to prosper.”21

Moreover, the supernatural gift of “bread from heaven” was not merely a preparatory and empowering stage. Rather, its influence continued and had a perceptible effect within the mundane reality experienced by the Jews after entering Eretz Yisrael, “a settled land.” Since, in essence, the Jewish people transcend the world and nature, even when they descend into the mode of Divine service demanded by “a settled land,” the bestowal of their livelihood is — at its truest and innermost level — unconnected with the workings of nature that are known as “bread from the earth.”

Indeed, the manna teaches one to rise above the workings of nature entirely, above even the approach where nature in and of itself is considered insignificant, but only as a medium for G‑d’s blessing, and that medium, too, is employed only because G‑d commanded one to do so. For in that approach, the influence is still linked to the natural order, since G‑d’s blessing comes to the person through the garment that he prepared.

Instead, the manna taught the Jewish people to regard the sustenance they earned, “the bread from the earth,” as “bread from heaven,” entirely transcending the workings of nature.

This approach expresses a Jew’s consummate trust in G‑d. Our trust in Him does not apply only when there is no way to earn one’s livelihood through the workings of nature22 and thus one has no choice but to rely on G‑d to provide him with his livelihood in a miraculous way,23 like the manna that descended in the wilderness.

Rather, even when one does make a medium in the natural order (because G‑d commanded him to do so), it is axiomatic for him that in principle, his livelihood comes to him as “bread from heaven,”24 transcending any linkage to the workings of nature. The promise that “G‑d will bless you in all that you do” does not mean only that His blessings for success will be proportionate to the limited parameters of the natural medium. Rather, the intent is that G‑d’s blessings will immeasurably surpass the medium the person employs,25 to the extent that the medium is of no importance to him.26

Manna as a Lesson

This explains why the manna had to be linked to man’s Divine service and efforts, at least to a certain degree.

If the “bread from heaven” had been entirely unconnected to man’s Divine service, it would bear no similarity to “bread from the earth.” This would have left room for a mistaken line of thought: When it comes to “bread from heaven,” which is not at all dependent on the preparatory steps or the Divine service of the recipient, one must rely entirely on G‑d. When, by contrast, one deals with “bread from the earth,” concerning which the Torah itself commands,27 “For six years, sow your fields…,” here man’s efforts are significant. Hence, a person might think, preparing a natural medium is an active factor in drawing down one’s livelihood.

For this reason, even “the bread from heaven” was “rained down”; i.e., a certain measure of effort was required and there was a correlation between the manner of its descent and man’s Divine service. This demonstrated that even at those times when man’s input is present, it should be understood that the influence granted from above is not at all connected with man’s efforts, but is “bread from heaven.”28

This manner of Divine influence empowered the people, when they entered the “settled land,” to regard it as obvious29 that the pattern of spiritual activity required there, a pattern that requires generating “bread from the earth,” in fact follows — in an inner, spiritual sense — the motif of “bread from heaven.”30

For What Do We Thank G‑d?

On this basis, we can explain a perplexing issue involving the blessing hazan, the first blessing of the Grace after Meals. The recitation of that blessing was ordained by Moshe when the manna first descended, and the second blessing, al ha’aretz, was ordained by Yehoshua when the people entered Eretz Yisrael.31

At first glance, a question arises: The blessing hazan is recited as thanks and praise for the food that G‑d has now granted. How can the blessing hazan, which was ordained by Moshe in appreciation for the manna, “bread from heaven,” serve that purpose for the food which we receive now, which is “bread from the earth”?32

Furthermore, the obligation to recite the first blessing is derived33 from the verse,34 “You shall eat, be sated, and bless…”; it relates to “eating and being sated.” And from the continuation of that verse, “for the land,” is derived the obligation to recite the second blessing.35 Implied is that the thankful acknowledgment made in the second blessing “for the land and for sustenance” does not apply simply to eating and being sated by our food; that relates to the blessing hazan. Instead, the second blessing expresses gratitude for “the land that gives forth sustenance.”36

This is problematic: Why is it that the thankful acknowledgment for our “eating and being sated” is included in the first blessing which was ordained in appreciation for the manna, “bread from heaven”?

The above explanations provide a resolution: “Bread from the earth,” with G‑d’s blessing that the earth will produce sustenance, is in truth only a conduit for the ultimate source of sustenance, “the bread from heaven.”

A Jew recognizes the truth — that the source for his sustenance is not dependent on his preparation or his work, nor even on the natural ways and means that are a medium through which he can receive G‑d’s blessing. Rather, it is “bread from heaven.” Therefore, when he recites the blessing hazan as an expression of thanks for his food and the satisfaction he derived from it, he uses the wording ordained for “bread from heaven,” for that is the true source of his food and satisfaction. Only afterwards, in the second blessing, does he thank G‑d for granting His blessings on the natural conduit through which that sustenance flows — in the spirit of the promise that “G‑d will bless you in all that you do.”