B’ha’lotecha: Buying your own manna

minimum-wage-povertyOne of my favorite words in Torah shows up in this week’s parasha, B’ha’alotecha.  It’s “asafsuf”…go ahead, try saying it, accent on the final syllable.  I’ll wait.  Fun, isn’t it?

Asafuf is also kind of hard to translate, but it’s often written as “riffraff” or a lower-class, rabble-rousing crowd.  The word shows up in Chapter 11 of Bamidbar, when things begin to hit a low point for the people and all hell is about to break loose in terms of Moses’ leadership, challenges to authority, a meltdown by Moses in front of God, and more.   But it starts with the complaining of the asafsuf about food, or rather, the lack of it.   “The asafsuf in their midst felt a gluttonous craving.  And then the Israelites wept and said, “If we only had meat to eat. We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic  Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all. Nothing but this manna to look to.” (Num 11:4-6)

Now, manna was a pretty remarkable substance.  Like mothers’ milk, it was supposed to contain everything needed to sustain life.  Yet that wasn’t enough for them, and Ramban (16th c Spain) offers one explanation.  He said that the food wasn’t under the Israelites’ control; they waited for it to appear, wondering if it would come or not.  Manna was purely a function of hope and faith, no matter how it tasted.  Ramban said, “As the saying goes, ‘There is no comparison between one with bread in his basket and one without.’”

Maybe the asafsuf really were hungry, but maybe if you’re always dependent on someone else to feed you, you’re always hungry.

These days, many policies are being made for people who rarely have a clue as to what it’s like to live hungry or make a dollar out of fifty cents.  One in five kids in this country live with “food insecurity”, i.e. they don’t know when that manna is going to fall again.  Some of them may be on food stamps  (aka SNAP), but that’s not a solution. Fact and fiction about SNAP recipients abound.  Sites like blogs.usda.gov and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities state that the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients work, but their wages don’t cover expenses.

Imagine what these families could do with a living wage.  They’d buy more stuff, they’d pay more taxes, they’d need less from government programs, and oh yes, they’d feed the people sitting around their tables.  As no kid hungry.org says, “It costs our nation more to ignore hunger than it does to eliminate it.”

I’ve worked at minimum-wage jobs, fairly recently in fact.  You simply can’t live on minimum wage. No one can.  I’d like to see any of the senators who voted against raising the minimum wage try to live on it.

Working families shouldn’t have to rely on faith..or the government..to get food.  They would much rather buy the manna themselves.  As nutritious as manna was, just like mother’s milk, there’s a time to get off it and get your own food.  It’s time to see that working families can.


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