The Torah tells in Parashat Beshalach (16:15) that the first time Benei Yisrael saw the manna, they turned “ish el achiv” – “each man to his brother” – and said, “Man hu,” which is commonly translated as, “What is it?”
Rav Yitzchak Yaakov of Biala found it significant that the Torah speaks of the people speaking “ish el achiv” – an expression which could connote a special feeling of brotherly love and affection. When the manna fell and Benei Yisrael went to obtain their ration of food, they looked at one another as “achiv” – brothers. There was no competition or jealousy, because they all knew that each person was receiving his portion designated for him by the Almighty. This is in contrast to natural means of sustenance, the pursuit of which is often characterized by fierce competitiveness, strife and envy. People compete with one another for jobs and customers, and they feel deprived when they see others who enjoy greater financial success than they do. The Rebbe of Biala detects in the Torah’s account of the manna an emphasis on the absence of such tension as the people fetched their manna. Knowing that each and every portion was a gift sent by God, for which nobody had worked or exerted any kind of effort to obtain, there was no room for competition or friction as the people went about collecting the food they needed for themselves and their families.
The Rebbe of Biala teaches us that we can eliminate a great deal of the jealousy and fighting that plagues so many people by viewing our livelihood as heavenly manna, as a gift graciously and compassionately granted to us by God. Although we, unlike our ancestors in the wilderness, must work and use our strength, creativity and skills to earn a living, nevertheless, we are to look upon our sustenance as a gift from God. This message was conveyed by Moshe before his death, as we read in Parashat Eikev (Devarim 8), when he commanded the people to recall their miraculous sustenance in the wilderness after they cross into Eretz Yisrael and earn wealth through farming and breeding cattle. Moshe raised the concern that the people’s newfound prosperity might lead them to pride themselves for their wealth – “my strength and the might of my hand produced all this wealth” (Devarim 8:17) – and to forgot that it is God “who gives you the strength to produce wealth” (Devarim 8:18). The manna provided for our ancestors is to remind us that all our material possessions are, in essence, manna, a gift provided by God, even though we invest time and effort to obtain it. When we live with this awareness, then we will look to our fellow as “achiv,” our “brother,” and not as our competitor. If we believe that our sustenance ultimately depends on the grace of the Almighty, who is capable of providing everybody with all their needs, then we will not feel jealous or resentful of other people’s material success, and will rather look to them with love and affection and live peacefully with them as brothers.