Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
More than “meats” the eye!
“The mixed multitude among the Israelites began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep, demanding: “Who’s going to feed us some meat?” … Now our spirits are dry, with nothing but the manna before our eyes. The manna was like coriander seed with a pearl-like lustre. The people would go for a stroll and gather it. They would grind it in a hand-mill or crush it in a mortar, cooking it in a pan and making it into cakes. It tasted like an oil wafer. At night, when the dew would fall on the camp, the manna would descend on it. Moshe heard the people weeping with their families ... God became very angry … (BeMidbar 11:4-10).
Kohelet Yitzchak asks why did God become very angry at the Israelites’ behaviour? Weren’t they only asking for a change in the menu? Granted that the manna could taste like whatever the hungry mouth wanted (Gemara Yoma 75a) but it is still preferable to enjoy the appearance of different foods!
We know that the usual parameters of free will did not apply in the wilderness, because punishments occurred immediately after sins, e.g. the plagues following the sin of the golden calf (Shemot 32:35) and after the spies’ bad report (BeMidbar 14:37), etc. Well, this framework applied on an individual level too, via the manna!
The Gemara (Yoma 75a) analyses the fascinating, textual nuances regarding the manna. “lechem” (Shemot 16:22) implies the manna was found in a baked state, “making it into cakes” implies they had to prepare and bake it, and “They would grind it” implies an even earlier state, requiring milling. Additionally, “When the dew would fall on the camp” implies the manna fell within the camp, “… the people would go out and gather” (Shemot 16:4) implies that it fell outside the camp, and “The people would go for a stroll and gather it” implies a considerable distance.
A community (TZiBuR) comprises TZadikim (righteous ones), Beinonim (middle-of-the-roaders) and Resha’im (wicked ones). The Gemara therefore deduces that the TZadikim received their manna in a baked state near their tents, the Beinonim received it in a pre-baked state just outside the camp, and the Resha’im collected their manna in a form that still needed grinding, some distance outside the camp. Obviously, this arrangement was very embarrassing for both constant and transitory Resha’im!
In a similar vein, the manna provided some revealing evidence pertinent to legal disputes. For instance, whether a defendant had stolen or purchased a servant from his original owner. If the servant had been stolen, the extra portion of manna would be found with the portion of the original owner; whereas if the servant had been purchased, the defendant would find extra manna with his portion.
Kohelet Yitzchak elucidates that the people who complained in BeMidbar 11:4-10 did not really need a new menu! They were surreptitiously trying to replace the manna so that the Jewish Court could not incriminate them! Since God knows a person’s inner thoughts, “God became very angry”.