Parshas Bishalach – The Measure of a Mohn
One of the strangest pesukim in the Torah is the one that ends the account of the mohn.
After stating that “the Bnei Yisrael ate the mohn for forty years, until they came to a settled land; they ate the mohn until they came to the border of Eretz Cna’an,” the Torah continues, without so much as a segment break, to state that “The omer is a tenth of an ephah” (Shemos, 16:36).
Granted, an omer-volume was the portion each person received daily. But why do we need to know its relationship to a larger volume? And why is so seemingly banal a statement the one to culminate the mohn account? Something in the Midrash about the korban ha’omer, the offering of an omer of barley on the second day of Pesach, is enlightening here.
In Vayikra Rabba 28:1, Rabi Yanai says:
The way of the world is that a person buys a measure of meat in the market; how much effort he expends, and pain he suffers, in cooking it. And, as people sleep in their beds, Hashem brings the winds and raises clouds and causes plants to sprout and ripens crops… and all He is given in return is the payment of the omer…
So the korban called omer implies a recognition of the fact that, however we may feel about our own efforts, it is Hashem Who does the, so to speak, heavy lifting regarding our sustenance. And that, of course, is the message of the mohn, too. The miraculous all-purpose food that fell from the sky signaled that, whatever efforts we might make to sustain ourselves, it is Hashem’s will that, in the end, in fact, does that.
And so Moshe was commanded to place an omer of mohn, that mere tenth of an ephah, into a container, to be preserved for all generations (Shemos 16:32). It is a reminder not only of the mohn miracle itself, but also of its implication, that, even in the absence of a korban omer, it is not our effort, in the end, that puts food on our tables.
© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran
My most recent Ami column, “Turning Up The Heat,” can be read here.