Friday night we were eating our Shabbat meal and the Challah bread was particularly crusty. I thought of the Midrash that Moshe told the Israelites that everyday Manna would fall, but since none would fall on Shabbat, a double portion would fall on Friday. Datan and Aviron, who were always trying to prove Moshe wrong, rose very early on the next Friday morning and gathered up large quantities of Manna from in front of the sleeping Israelites tents. Shabbat morning they again rose early and spread their large cache of Manna back to the front of the tents. Miraculously, thousands of birds swept through the Israelite camp and ate all of the Manna, thereby foiling Datan and Aviron’s plan. The Midrash goes on to say that because of this miracle performed by birds, it is customary to gather the crumbs from the Shabbat table and place them outside our homes to feed birds.
All this went through my mind when I gazed at the crumbs on our table, but instead of relating this Midrash to my friend, I said, “my father used to gather all the crumbs together and take a spoon and eat the crumbs.” Now I always knew that he did so because as a holocaust survivor, he knew what it was like not to have bread and so, he didn’t let any bread go to waste, even crumbs. Though I always knew this unspoken fact, I never really thought of it. Not to have bread, to starve for months and years at a time and never be able to satisfy your hunger. I suddenly came to grips with the terrible reality of our existence in this horrible Galut – exile.
We speak of the return to Zion, the unification of our nation by the great newly anointed Melech HaMashi’ach – King of Israel, who we so impatiently wait for. We talk and expound on this exceedingly anticipated event and yet we sit in our comfortable homes, on our comfortable furniture, eating our over abundant meals and don’t really feel the misery of our exile. My father experienced the despair of loss and abandonment and when that chapter of his life ended and a new chapter began, one of comfort and prosperity, one of family and of Simachot – joyous occasions, he never forgot. My father celebrated his new reality by eating the crumbs – acknowledging that this new reality could not be separated from the other reality, it was all part of the Galut and at any moment reality could change.
Now I’m back to my Shabbat table and having spaced out on this revelation I became alarmed. I was one of those “Mashi’ach’s coming” guys and I had no idea of what I was talking about. I was comfortable in my little world of intellectual anticipation without really feeling the loss of our Temple and our culture. My father after his death became a biblical prophet to me, his message was one of hope that times change and that sorrow can turn on a dime and become joyfulness. His simple “Bitachon – certainty” that HaShem would never forsake him, is what carried him through Auschwitz, the loss of his family, and all the horrors of the mid-twentieth century.
During his last 50 years he remarried, he started a new family, provided for their physical and spiritual needs, he became a leader of his community, he watched with glowing eyes the children and grandchildren that satisfied his faithful certainty. He never forgot, he never took his blessings for granted, he ate the bread crumbs and he rejoiced in his many blessings. His was and still is the epitome of the blessing recited in our Grace After Meals – said after eating bread – The Merciful One will smash our yoke (of exile) from upon our necks and He will escort us erect to our land.