15.3. God Gives Manna and Meat in the Wilderness (16:1-21)

(1) Setting out from Elim, the whole Israelite community came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.

(2) In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.

(3) The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.”

(4) And the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion — that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not.

(5) But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.”

(6) So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “By evening you shall know it was the Lord who brought you out from the land of Egypt;

(7) and in the morning you shall behold the Presence of the Lord, because He has heard your grumblings against the Lord. For who are we that you should grumble against us?

(8) Since it is the Lord,” Moses continued, “who will give you flesh to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to the full, because the Lord has heard the grumblings you utter against Him, what is our part? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the Lord!”

(9) Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community: Advance toward the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling.”

(10) And as Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned toward the wilderness, and there, in a cloud, appeared the Presence of the Lord.

(11) The Lord spoke to Moses:

(12) “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Speak to them and say: By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; and you shall know that I the Lord am your God.”

(13) In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp.

(14) When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

(15) When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” — for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.

(16) This is what the Lord has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat, an omer to a person for as many of you as there are; each of you shall fetch for those in his tent.”

(17) The Israelites did so, some gathering much, some little.

(18) But when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered as much as they needed to eat.

(19) And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”

(20) But they paid no attention to Moses; some of them left of it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank. And Moses was angry with them.

(21) So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

(1) Setting out from Elim: Each new leg of the journey brings a new lesson from the Almighty.

The whole Israelite community came: The people are gradually coming to realize and understand that they constitute a single, united community.

To the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai: They continue to advance toward Sinai; that is, to the giving of the Torah.

On the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt: They had left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month, which means that exactly a month has passed since the Exodus. The emphasis during this first month was on obedience training. But from the second month onward, the Jews are given more and more opportunity to assert their independence.

(2) In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron: Earlier, when the issue was water, the Jews directed their resentment only toward Moses, but now they spare neither Moses nor Aaron.

The first wave of discontent concerned only water, the most essential of all human needs (water is an absolute necessity of life, thus symbolizing the barest essence). The people’s discontent was therefore directed toward Moses alone. But now this is not only about hunger, but about all the necessities and amenities of life.

The people seem to have completely forgotten the hardships of slavery, and now idealize the virtues of Egypt. Their latest grumblings are therefore directed also against Aaron, who had been living all along with the people in Egypt, and is thus intimately familiar with the conditions of life there, such as they were.

(3) The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread!” Only one month after the liberation, tales of the Jews as well-nourished Egyptian slaves have already begun to surface.

They begin to complain of hunger because by this time all the bread (matzah) that they brought out with them from Egypt has already been eaten. Thus, for the past month the Jews have still not freed themselves from Egypt, because they continued to eat Egyptian wheat, and were psychologically still dependent on Egypt. But it is now time for them to become self-sufficient.

For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death: The slave generation does not believe that it was God Who brought them out of Egypt. They consider the Exodus a joint expedient by Moses and Aaron, and impute to them malevolent motives.

(4) And the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky”: Although the grumbling is in the main unseemly, God’s objective is not to punish, but to educate. He therefore wants to teach the Jews that all their food comes from heaven.

And the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion — that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not: Hebrew anaseh, “I may thus test them,” is used here not in the sense of “checking,” but in the sense of “giving a lesson, giving experience” (see also above 15.1, commentary on verse 15:25).

People had to see from their own experience that the world functions in accordance with the words of God, and also gain experience in keeping the commandments – not collecting manna on Shabbat.

(5) But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day: When they discover that they have collected a double portion of manna – this will help them see that God rules the world.

(6) So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “By evening you shall know it was the Lord who brought you out from the land of Egypt”: The people believe that it was Moses and Aaron who brought them out of Egypt, and they therefore level their complaints against them. The bread that will fall from heaven, and also the meat they will receive, will counter this belief, by demonstrating to the people that the Exodus is happening by the will of the Almighty.

(7) And in the morning you shall behold the Presence of the Lord: Manna not only satiated the people, but also served to educate them, because they all experienced Divine grace on a daily basis. On weekdays each person collected exactly one omer (approximately 2,2 liters) of manna, all of which had to be eaten the same day – none could be left for the morrow. But on the sixth day of the week, the day preceding Shabbat, each person collected two omers, half of which was to be left for the next day, because on Shabbat no manna fell.

(8) Since it is the Lord,” Moses continued, “who will give you flesh to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to the full, because the Lord has heard the grumblings you utter”: The Lord has heard your complaints, and because this time He considers them justified, He has decided to limit Himself to educational measures exclusively. But later we will see that God begins to punish those who complain for no reason.

(9) Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community: ‘Advance toward the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling’ ”: Moses is unable to explain the problem to the people himself, and is forced to speak through Aaron.

(10) And as Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned toward the wilderness: They received an answer, and their food too, only by turning toward the wilderness – that is, by turning away from Egypt, with whom they had again begun to associate themselves (“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread!,” v. 3).

And there, in a cloud, appeared the Presence of the Lord: The Divine Presence appears through the cloud, which travels ahead of the camp and sets the people’s direction of movement. The Jews need to understand that they will solve their problems only by moving toward the future, and not by returning to the past.

(11) The Lord spoke to Moses: The Almighty converses with Moses here in full view of the entire community of the Children of Israel, which serves as a lesson to them.

(12) “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Speak to them and say: By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread: The Midrash explains: Their request for bread was proper, for they really did need it, therefore they will continue to receive bread every morning. But they asked for meat in an unworthy manner, for they had much cattle, and moreover, they could have made do without meat. God therefore gave them their meat at an inconvenient time of day, in the evening. But when in the future the Jews will again demand meat in this same way, they will be punished – they will die from eating that meat (Num. ch. 11).

And you shall know that I the Lord am your God: And then you will no longer level complaints or claims against Moses.

(13) In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp: The text that follows discusses the manna in great detail, but there is no further mention of the quail. Apparently, once they received the meat the Jews lost all interest in it, because they really had no need for it to begin with.

(14) When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground: The manna falls together with the dew. When the dew has evaporated, on the ground only the manna remains.

(15) When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it” — for they did not know what it was: The manna thus takes its name from that question: Man hu?, “What is it?” But those words can also have a declarative meaning: “It is man!” (or “manna,” as it later became known in western translation).

Expecting in the morning to find bread (as Moses had said, v. 4), they could not understand what this stuff was that had actually fallen.

The Midrash adds that the taste of the manna and even its very essence both remained “undefined,” thus further reinforcing the “What is it?” idea. The manna could acquire almost any taste whatsoever, nor did its essential nature remain constant. Ordinary manna rotted overnight, but on Shabbat it remained edible for the entire following day. But far more remarkable still, the manna that God later commanded to collect and retain as a keepsake (“to be kept throughout the ages” – see v. 33-34 below) could be stored for an indefinite period of time. Therefore, the question “What is it?” remained such a prominent feature of the manna that it became the name of the thing itself.

And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat”: Because this will be your primary food, you should treat it accordingly.

(16) This is what the Lord has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat, an omer to a person for as many of you as there are; each of you shall fetch for those in his tent: Collect as much manna as necessary, as determined by the number of persons who need to be immediately fed. But you must make no attempt to stockpile it.

(17) The Israelites did so, some gathering much, some little: Each to the best of his ability. For some, the process of collecting the manna took longer, while others were able to collect it more quickly.

(18) But when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: “Gathered much” and “gathered little” refer to the actual time spent collecting the manna. Regardless of how much time was expended, it was impossible to collect any more nor any less than exactly one omer of manna for each family member.

They had gathered as much as they needed to eat: For the duration of their entire forty-year journey through the wilderness, the Jews received bread from heaven in rations of exactly one one-day serving per person per day (this was true of Shabbat as well, except that they always received their manna for Shabbat as part of a double ration that fell the day before).

(19) And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning”: It was impossible to store up manna – by the next day it would always spoil. Unable to keep food in reserve, the Jews developed a feeling of dependence on Heaven, putting their constant hopes in God. It taught them to put their constant trust in Him.

(20) But they paid no attention to Moses; some of them left of it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank: It is very difficult for a person to live with the constant worry of not knowing what he will eat tomorrow. But such was the daily experience of the Jews with respect to their food during their entire stay in the wilderness.

And Moses was angry with them: Moses was angry because what those people had done demonstrated a lack of faith. But in fact, we could say that the real reason for this anger was that Moses himself, so long ago in his dialogue with God at the burning bush, likewise did not immediately believe the Almighty.

(21) So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat: Gathering the manna each morning became the norm fairly soon. The people no longer tried to store it overnight.

For when the sun grew hot, it would melt: Once the dew had evaporated, the manna had to be collected rather quickly, because by the middle of the day it would melt. This underscored for the Jews the ephemeral nature of all their food.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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