By the time Moses marched the Israelites out of Egypt, they had gone through a lot: Mass murder of their baby sons and harsh treatment as slaves. The frightening experience of watching (from a safe distance) as God sent plague after deadly plague, culminating in a final act of punishment which required blood smeared across door frames to ensure survival. The sea was parted and they walked across dry land while the pursuing Egyptians met their watery fate.
Then the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness. Missing the comforts of their old home (though minimal), their stomachs rumbled and they grumbled, “You have brought us out here in the desert to die!” So God sent manna, honey-flavored flakes from the sky which settled on the ground like dew. They were told to take as much as they needed, about 3 lbs. for each person in their family, then bake it or boil it according to their own particular taste. Moses told them not to keep any of it until morning or it would spoil. The Lord was teaching them to rely on Him.
On the sixth day of the week, they were told to gather twice as much. The Lord saw their stress level and their arrogance, so He told them, “Tomorrow is going to be a day of sabbath rest. So prepare the manna however you choose and save whatever is left to eat tomorrow.” Sure enough, this time the manna didn’t spoil or become infested with maggots. But some hard-headed people still went out to gather manna on the sabbath morning. The Lord saw their surprised and frustrated and worried faces, so He said to Moses, “When are they going to start obeying me?! I’m giving them rest! It’s what they need! Everyone is to stay put on the seventh day.” And that was that—the Israelites kept the Sabbath.
I told my young son this story on Sunday—the grumbling, the manna, the worrying, and the gift of the Sabbath. An hour later, my sister sent me a beautiful poem written earlier this month by poet Lynn Ungar about our present misfortune. It reminds me why we should keep the sabbath today.
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love– for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20