The Exodus:5 Project
On the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day. Exodus 16:5
Like a lot of America, I appear to be suddenly wealthy. My various investments are benefiting from the surge in the stock market, and even a life-long market coward like me finds my few remaining bar mitzvah stocks and retirement accounts surging. I saw a story in the newspaper the other day about people my age who are withdrawing some of this unanticipated money from their 401K savings to take vacations or buy another house or live a little larger while they feel up to it.
Not me. I remember not so many years ago when acquaintances who were then the age I am now were running around with their hair on fire because these same accounts were suddenly underperforming. They believed that their future would include cat food and heavy blankets as their retirement years became the dystopian version of their earlier dreams. I am not planning on abundance or deprivation, just the sabbath of my work-life.
There are a lot of Biblical stories that we treat like fairy tales, especially when reading them with principled literalism provokes deep disbelief in the likelihood of their truth. It does not matter to me at all if manna fell from the skies six nights a week as the Israelites spent a generation or more wandering around the wilderness like flies in a mason jar. Let’s say it did, or let’s say it didn’t. Here we are to debate it; therefore, my ancestors must have somehow survived those early days so that I could live these late ones. That they lived is undisputed. How they lived is instructive.
For most of each week, they gathered food for the day. The symbiotic relationship of provider and consumer took a while to establish. Early on, some folks hedged their bets by collecting more food than they needed to survive to the next day. It inevitably spoiled. When, at the end of the week, there suddenly appeared an overabundance of food, they were reluctant to gather more than a day’s worth, believing that it would spoil. They had to rely on others the next day – Shabbat – for their sustenance.
I imagine it didn’t take more than a couple of weeks for everyone to get with the program. For five days they gleaned. For one day they put in a little extra work. And on the seventh day, they rested. Literal or not, the pattern became ingrained in the participants in the narrative and, more important to me, in the tellers of the story. Don’t overreach as you make your way through the world. Sock away that extra when it appears.
I have a dear friend with a very different philosophy. She never worries too much about money. When she has it, she spends it. When she doesn’t, she does not. She has been willing to accept a less consistent lifestyle than I have, but she is no less satisfied with hers than I am with mine. However, she indeed discovered Shabbat and in the value of preparing for it before the day arrives.
And it is good advice whether you are like me or like my friend. A week is like a life lived over and over – six days you should do all your work so that you can rest on the seventh. Six years you should plow your fields so that they can lie fallow during the seventh. Seven cycles of fallow should you observe so that you can release all debts the next year. With all these instructions, too, it does not matter to me if they were actually observed, observed symbolically through some legal fiction or just the stuff of stories told generation to generation. Let’s say they were true, or let’s say they weren’t. Here we are, descendants of the literalists, legalists and librettists, living our lives as proof of those before us.
Grabbing a handful of this temporary windfall is one way to react. Looking for a lockbox to squirrel it away is another. I don’t know that either one is right or wrong, but they both ignore the wisdom of patterns set for us before stocks and bonds and pensions and mutual funds.
Six days of work, one day of rest. A little extra effort at the end of the six to enjoy the fullness of the seventh. A good week. A good year. A good life.