The Torah in Parashat Vayakhel tells of Benei Yisrael’s enthusiastic response to the call for donations of materials for the Mishkan, and we read that they brought their donations each morning – “ba-boker ba-boker” (36:3). While this seems to be the plain meaning of the verse, the Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (75a) interprets this phrase differently, explaining that it refers to materials that the people received together with the manna, which fell from the heavens each morning. Specifically, the Gemara tells, precious stones fell together with the manna, and these were used for the special garments of the kohanim.
This account also appears in the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 33:8), which adds that “the leaders among them would come and collect them and hide them.” The “gedolim,” the prominent members of the nation, collected these precious jewels and hid them until they were needed for the priestly garments. The Yefei Toar commentary to the Midrash explains this to mean that the precious stones fell only with the portions of manna intended for these prominent individuals, and this is why only they collected the jewels. Alternatively, the Yefei Toar suggests, Moshe perhaps issued a specific directive authorizing only these leaders to collect the precious stones.
On a symbolic level, there may be an important lesson to learn from the precious stones that accompanied the manna. The daily food rations that miraculously fell from the heavens to feed Benei Yisrael in the wilderness are often viewed as symbolic of the perspective we must have on our livelihood – as a gift from above. Unlike our ancestors in the desert, we cannot rely on miraculous sustenance and need to take responsibility for and invest effort in securing our livelihood. Nevertheless, the wilderness experience serves as an eternal reminder that ultimately our sustenance is granted to us by the Almighty, and the success of our efforts depends solely on His will.
This symbolic perspective on the manna should perhaps inform our understanding of the symbolic significance of the precious jewels that accompanied the daily food rations. Just as we are to recognize how God sends us our “manna” – our livelihood – each day, we must also keep our eyes open to the “precious jewels” that He grants us along with our basic sustenance. Every day, “ba-boker ba-boker,” we receive both our basic needs as well as many other “extras” that we do not necessarily need for our sustenance. Too often, it is only the “gedolim” – those people with special awareness and sensitivity – that recognize and appreciate the gifts that the Almighty showers upon us each day. The rest of us go out to collect our manna, to earn a living and secure our livelihood, but fail to see the “jewels,” the countless precious gifts with which we are blessed.
The Midrash’s account thus teaches us to take note of the many gifts in our lives, and to follow the example of the “gedolim” who used these gifts for the Mishkan, for the purpose of bringing the Divine Presence into our midst and serving God to the best of our ability.