The Double Portion

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁ֗י לָֽקְט֥וּ לֶ֙חֶם֙ מִשְׁנֶ֔ה שְׁנֵ֥י הָעֹ֖מֶר לָאֶחָ֑ד וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ כָּל־נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הָֽעֵדָ֔ה וַיַּגִּ֖ידוּ לְמֹשֶֽׁה׃  וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם ה֚וּא אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֶּ֣ר ה’ שַׁבָּת֧וֹן שַׁבַּת־קֹ֛דֶשׁ לַֽה’ מָחָ֑ר אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאפ֞וּ אֵפ֗וּ וְאֵ֤ת אֲשֶֽׁר־תְּבַשְּׁלוּ֙ בַּשֵּׁ֔לוּ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֹדֵ֔ף הַנִּ֧יחוּ לָכֶ֛ם לְמִשְׁמֶ֖רֶת עַד־הַבֹּֽקֶר׃

On the sixth day they gathered double (lechem mishneh) the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the LORD. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.”

When I first started to observe shabbat with you all, back in 2018, I mentioned the practice of having two loaves of bread for your shabbat meals. This is a practice called lechem mishneh, and it comes from this very pasuk in today’s parsha. It is symbolic of God providing for B’nei Israel while they wandered in the desert. We represent this abundance on our shabbat tables each week. In the midrash Bereishit Rabbah, it says that this lechem mishneh, this double portion, was the blessing of Shabbat.  

There is an idea (from Rabbi Abraham Joshuah Heschel) that Shabbat is a palace in time. As modern people, we often focus on the restrictions that Shabbat demands (No writing! No cooking! No computing!), but when we only look at the restrictions, we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. The restrictions of shabbat are born of the desire to create sacred, differentiated time. In order to differentiate space, we have to draw some lines. A blank sheet of white paper needs to have lines drawn upon it in order to become a picture. When I’m speaking with my kids or even my own parents about observing shabbat, it can feel like it is all “don’ts.” Every day of the week we do X but on Shabbos we do not do that.  Framing it in that way focuses on the negative and loses sight of what is created from the boundary we draw. This, for me, is part of the blessing of shabbat. We create sacredness in time out distinction. 

The double portion, lechem mishneh, exists on another level – it is something we DO rather than something we do not. The blessing of the double portion in the desert was that the Israelites did not have to worry about their food for shabbat, it had already been prepared. It goes beyond the boundary of “do not cook on shabbat,” and reminds us that in order to fully observe the don’t, we have to prepare. The double portion in our own lives is symbolic of the work we put in advance in order to better and more fully appreciate what we have. Let us take a moment to pause and appreciate the blessing of being prepared. Whereas on every other day of the week, we are ruled by our needs – on shabbat we get to feel like we exist beyond our needs. Our desire for and enjoyment of food does not disappear, rather, it is met without our having to toil to do so.  Thus we are asked not only to not do on Shabbat, but also TO DO on the other 6 days of the week.

There is an important ecological principle baked into this blessing – to see it more clearly, I offer the story of Honi the Circle Maker from masechet Ta’anit. 

One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?””

What did Honi’s initial question (“Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?”) reveal about him? 

The story continues… “The man replied: “I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children.”

What does this response teach Honi? What does it teach us?

In both examples, the fig trees we must plant today if we hope to feed our children and grandchildren from them… and the meals we should cook next Friday so that we can feast on them next shabbat – there is an element of pre-meditation, of planning and preparation. We are asked to do something in the present for the sake of the future. This can feel nearly impossible when our lives are so full of demands. But the spiritual wisdom of taking time out of the present for the sake of the future is sound. It is good for us and good for the planet. I leave you with a blessing – may you find one small thing to do today that is an investment in tomorrow.