Yesterday, we noted the Midrash’s account (in Shemot Rabba 33:8) of how God miraculously enabled Benei Yisrael to provide all the materials needed for the Mishkan by having precious stones and jewels falls from the heavens each morning together with the manna. The Midrash relates: “Together with the manna that fell for Israel, precious stones and jewels fell, and the great among them would come and collect them…” These precious materials were then donated towards the construction of the Mishkan. The Midrash relates that Moshe at first wondered whether Benei Yisrael would be capable of completing this project, and God assured him that they would – and, indeed, He Himself helped them by miraculously providing them with the materials they needed.
Why did Chazal connect the precious materials used for the Mishkan, and the manna? Why are these materials described as being provided specifically with the daily portion of manna which fell from the skies each morning? And why does the Midrash describe only the “great among them” (“ha-gedolim she-bahen”) collecting these items?
The manna that fell for Benei Yisrael each morning in the wilderness instructs that even after this forty-year period, when we are able and encouraged to work, innovate, create and produce in order to obtain our sustenance, it is, ultimately, God who provides us with all our needs. The model of the manna is relevant even after the period of desert travel, as it reminds us to rely on God for our sustenance. And thus, on the eve of Benei Yisrael’s entry into the Land of Israel, Moshe commanded that when they cultivate the land and enjoy the fruits of their labor, they must always remember the period of travel through the uninhabitable wilderness, when they were supported miraculously by the heavenly manna (Devarim 8:2-18) – so they never forget that they are sustained by God, even as they till the land, dig wells, and produce their own food.
The Midrash here points to the fact that just as God provides us with our physical sustenance each day, so does He provide us with the “precious materials” which we need to build our “Mishkan.” Over the course of our ordinary, daily routine, we are given many different opportunities to learn, to grow, to advance, to become better people, and to attain a higher level of sanctity. Like Moshe, we might wonder whether or not we are capable of building a “Mishkan,” of creating holiness in our lives, given the pressures and challenges we face in tending to our basic physical needs, struggling to secure a livelihood and caring for ourselves and our families. The answer, the Midrash explains, is that along with the “manna” that God graciously provides for us, He also sends us precious opportunities for spiritual growth which we can use to build our inner “Mishkan” and develop ourselves spiritually, even as we go about trying meet our mundane necessities.
However, the Midrash warns, we need to be “great” in order to find these opportunities and seize them. Many people go out each day and see only the “manna,” the means of satisfying their physical needs. But if we aspire for greatness, we will see in our daily routine not only the “manna,” but also “precious materials,” priceless opportunities for learning, for spiritual advancement. The Midrash bids us to keep our eyes open for these valuables, to ensure not to squander these opportunities, and we will then be able to build for ourselves a “Mishkan” and bring God into our lives each and every day.