Manna and Haman
PurimBurst, 1998 / 5758
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
This statement is true whether one translates המן as the heavenly bread (מן) that fell in the desert and nourished our transition from Egypt to the Holy Land; or as Haman, the archenemy of Israel whose foiled plan for Jewish genocide is enshrined for all time as the Purim story.
Each life’s journey is filled with crossroads that rarely have signs to mark G‑d’s way. Should I stay in kollel or acquire a trade? Is this the person I should marry? Will I serve the Jewish people more in Israel or America? Does G‑d will me to leave this soul-crushing marriage or try for the thousandth time to make things work?
These questions fall outside the pale of uniform codes for their answers vary from case to case. Each person must find the G‑d–serving truth that applies to this unique circumstance and this moment in time. Guiding principles go only so far; there is no avoiding the leap. At some point the mind must give way to the heart, for in these questions the judgment is subjective and, like it or not, the heart holds that key.
What equips us for this task? How does one learn to orient in a sea of relative truths? Where does one turn to acquire this expertise. There are universities to train our brains, but how do we train our hearts to recognize truth in all its varied guises.
Our generation does not have prophets to guide its way, but we do still have המן. The midrash says that each day enough מן (manna) fell to feed the people for two thousand years. All that wasn’t eaten melted into rivulets, seeped into the water table, rose up the food chain, and permeated the biosphere with its magical tastes and properties. Today everything in our world is laced with מן (manna).
The secret is this: If we want to teach our heart to choose right we must train our palates to prefer the taste of מן(manna), an exquisitely quiet joy distinguished by its stable nature. While all other delights come and go, the delicate peace that comes from מן (manna) never leaves. There are layers of depth to its bouquet. When faced with a spread of options that require subjective assessment, the path of life can be recognized as the one that holds your portion of מן (manna).
The midrash says that a person’s מן (manna) would fall in different ways depending upon his state of grace. Sometimes it was close and convenient, other times distant and laborious. Sometimes it required elaborate preparation while at others its raw state was perfectly delectable. The midrash reports that it occasionally happened that after a couple would fight the wife’s מן (manna) would fall in her father’s house, warning the husband to shape up or HaShem might change her domicile. In this way, each day, the מן (manna) gave an updated reading of each person’s soul state.
HaShem marks our path by placing a cache of מן (manna) at the coordinate where he wants us to be. By unfolding its more tender flavors he weans us from quail, i.e., from the need for peak experience, drama, and catharsis to know that we’re alive. Instead He sensitizes our palates to the intensely subtle sweetness of the ordinary. A connoisseur of מן (manna) finds satisfaction in the simple pleasure of deepening relationship with the routines of life. One with a cultivated passion for מן (manna) knows when to stay and when to move, when growth’s path leads inward still, and when changes in circumstance must now be made.
And yet in truth every option at a crossroads has its store of מן, whether in the form of angel’s bread (המן / the manna) or as the terrors and purgations that always follow in the wake of wrong action (המן / Haman). All of the choices lead to one consummating realization, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place sweeter than choosing the niche that HaShem designed for my particular soul.” Thank G‑d, there is no avoiding that fate. HaShem placed two full proof inducements in his universe, both called המן, though one is a sweet ambrosia and the other a bone melting terror. By hook or by crook, G‑d’s will will be done.
Nevertheless, the stakes are high, the incentive to choose right compelling. How can one cultivate this critical skill of rectified decision making. The answer is both the gift and the secret of Purim. One must strive to integrate the consciousness of עד דלא ידע (until you don’t know…), transcending self-conscious awareness until you don’t know the difference between blessing or curse, until you are not seduced by flattery or insult, praises or criticism. Any ego reaction, whether of defense or swelling, impairs judgment. From the vantage of עד דלא ידע (until you don’t know…) blessing and curse are the same, and self worth hinges on one thing alone, whether the thoughts of one’s heart and the deeds of one’s life praise G‑d.
A young scholar approached the famous mystery school that trained its students to be prophets and seers. He asked to be initiated into their circle. The tsadik who interviewed the petitioner praised his intentions: “Blessed are you, child of G‑d, your goals are right. I have one question for you. Pray, tell me, have you attained equanimity?”
The aspirant requested an explanation of terms.
The tsadik replied, “There are two men. One respects you and one insults you. Are they equal in your eyes?”
The aspirant responded, “No they are not. I feel good and at peace with the one who respects me, and pained by the insult. I would never take revenge or hold a grudge against the latter, for the Torah forbids that. Nevertheless, they do evoke different feelings inside me.”
The sage replied: “Go in peace my son. Until you have attained equanimity, until you are totally G‑d referenced, you are not fit to attain prophesy. Until your insides do not respond to flattery or insult, you are not ready to enter the higher states of consciousness that we teach here. Go and work on yourself still more. When your heart attains humility and equanimity, you may return and join our circle.
One who seeks Divine guidance for a life decision is also pursuing a subtle form of prophesy, and here too, success requires a clean and humble heart.
- Tsadok HaKohen suggests a verse from Psalms to be used as a prayer–mantra when making life decisions. Like all scriptural verses, it has the power to conjure the reality concerning which it speaks.
לב טהור ברא לי אלקים[Please] G‑d, create in me a pure heart.
When a person recites this verse prayerfully, HaShem dissolves their heart and reconstitutes it again from clean materials. This newly created heart, now pure, only inclines toward truth, it only enjoys the taste of מן (manna).
Let it be that on this Purim we integrate the consciousness of עד דלא ידע בין ברוך…ובין ארור, of not knowing the difference between praise and insult, into every cell and space of our being. May our hearts receive the pure truth of each moment undistorted by narcissistic needs and ego defenses. May we cultivate a passionate taste for מן (manna) and choose the path of life at all our crossroads.
 See PurimThemes, p. 19.
 Midrash Tanchuma, BeShalach.
 The Hebrew word for this heavenly bread (מן) is pronounced maan, though its more common English rendering is manna. Adding the definite article (ה’) to the word produces המן, which is pronounced hamaan, and sounds identical to Haman’s name.
 Yalkut Shimoni, B’Shalach, 268.
 Yalkut Shimoni, 261 (262).
 Numbers 11. Manna is a spiritual food. Its taste was heavenly but it did not provide a sense of physical satiation. It took the Israelites some time to wean themselves from the desire for more substantial foods. And so, when they complained about this matter, HaShem sent them quail in addition to their daily supply of manna. HaShem was not pleased with their request. See also, Exodus 16:13.
 See Num. 11; TB Sanhedrin 97b; TY Taanit 1:1.
 Literally, “until you don’t know the difference [between curse…and blessing…]. See PurimThemes, p. 18.
 Leviticus 19:18.
 R. Chayim Vital, Ketavim Chadashim, Shaari Kedusha, P 19, in the name of R. Avner.
 R. Tsadok HaKohen, Tsidkat HaTsadik, 98, 119.
 Psalms 51:12.
 T. Tsadok HaKohen, Tsidkat HaTsadik, 39.