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Were the Israelites Craving for Meat or Starving for Food?

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David Frankel

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Were the Israelites Craving for Meat or Starving for Food?

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Were the Israelites Craving for Meat or Starving for Food?

“There is nothing at all, nothing but this manna” (Num 11:6): How the manna tradition overtook the suffering in the wilderness tradition.

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Were the Israelites Craving for Meat or Starving for Food?

Gathering Manna. Wood engraving on India paper. Artist: After Arthur Boyd Houghton (British, Madras, India 1836–1875 London) Engraver: Dalziel Brothers. The Met Museum

The riffraff living among the Israelites have a craving, and cause the Israelites to desire meat and fondly recall the diverse diet of fish and vegetables that they feasted on in Egypt:

במדבר יא:ד וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר. יא:ה זָכַרְנוּ אֶת הַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם חִנָּם אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים וְאֶת הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת הַבְּצָלִים וְאֶת הַשּׁוּמִים. יא:ו וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה אֵין כֹּל בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ.
Num 11:4 The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 11:5 We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 11:6 Now our throats are dried away. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!”

Verses 5-6 draw a contrast between the Israelites’ culinary experience in Egypt and the monotonous wilderness diet of manna. The text then continues by describing what the manna is and how it was prepared:

במדבר יא:ז וְהַמָּן כִּזְרַע גַּד הוּא וְעֵינוֹ כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח. יא:ח שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן. יא:ט וּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל הַמַּחֲנֶה לָיְלָה יֵרֵד הַמָּן עָלָיו.
Num 11:7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and in color it was like bdellium. 11:8 The people would go about and gather it, grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar, boil it in a pot, and make it into cakes. It tasted like cakes baked with oil.[1] 11:9 When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall upon it.

A simple reading of the story is that vv. 5-6 present the Israelites as lusting for meat and rejecting the manna. Thus, the narrator emphasizes in vv. 7-9 the positive qualities of the manna, its easy preparation and its good taste, highlighting the ingratitude of the Israelites and thus preparing the reader for the divine wrath that was to come with the quail provision.

Nevertheless, it is strange that the text describes manna as if the reader does not know what it is. Manna is described in detail in Exodus 16; the editorial description of manna in our story seems out of place if it is part of a source in which manna has already been introduced.

Priestly and Non-Priestly Manna in Exodus 16

Exodus 16 is a long account that is actually two accounts woven together, a Priestly and a non-Priestly text (generally assumed to be J). The description of manna in Numbers 11, a non-Priestly text, is actually quite different than what we find in the ostensibly corresponding non-Priestly account in Exod 16.[2] The story there merely tells us that the Israelites gathered it daily, since it melted in the afternoon, and that they received a double portion on Fridays to avoid gathering it on Shabbat, which YHWH forbade. Oddly, nothing is said there, when the manna is first introduced, about what it looked like, its taste, or its preparation.

Food from Heaven

In fact, the non-Priestly material of Exod 16 doesn’t even call the food manna! In Exod 16:4, God refers to it as לחם מן השמים, “food (or: bread[3]) from heaven” and in verse 29, Moses refers to לחם יומיים, “a two-day food (or: bread) provision.” It is only called manna in the Priestly text.[4] The Priestly text also includes similar details to those in Numbers 11 such as manna “was like coriander seed” (וְהוּא כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן; v. 31b) and that it fell upon a layer of dew (v. 14).[5]

In other words, the references to manna in Numbers 11 do not appear to be a natural continuation of the non-Priestly source in Exodus 16, rather, they are the work of a scribe either familiar with the Priestly text of Exod 16 or at least familiar with the tradition that undergirds it. Nevertheless, Numbers 11 was not written as part of a Priestly text or even a combined Priestly and non-Priestly Torah; as far as the narrator of Numbers 11 is concerned, he is introducing the manna to his readers for the first time.

Manna in the Quail Story: Anticlimactic Ending of Complaint

The manna references in our account are problematic for another reason. Syntactically speaking, the phrase in Num 11:6, “only to the manna are our eyes” (בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ), continues the sentence “but now our throats are dried away, there is nothing at all” (וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה אֵין כֹּל) most awkwardly. If the problem of the Israelites was the manna, why didn’t they mention this from the start? Moreover, manna may be “boring” but it is hardly “nothing at all” such that the Israelites should complain about their throats being shriveled.

A Redactional Supplement

I would thus suggest that in an earlier form of this chapter, the Israelite complaint originally ended in v. 6b, with the words: “but now our throats are dried away, there is nothing at all.” In response to this, God provides Israel with the quails. Indeed, there is no hint in the continuation of the story of Numbers 11 that the meat of the quails was consumed together with the manna as we see, for instance, in the Priestly account of Exodus 16:8, 12-13:

בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם תֹּאכְלוּ בָשָׂר וּבַבֹּקֶר תִּשְׂבְּעוּ לָחֶם
At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread.

Stated differently, must the quails have come as a supplement to the manna? Perhaps what we have here is a separate tradition, in which quail is an independent miracle providing the Israelites with food when they were hungry, just as we see with the non-Priestly story about the “food from heaven” in Exodus 16, which doesn’t mention quail.

Manna Changes Everything

Once the tradition of the manna provision became prominent, however, the original version of the complaint of Numbers 11 became problematic: How could the Israelites have claimed that their throats were dry and that they had nothing at all? What about God’s daily provision of manna? This required the supplementation of the final “only to the manna are our eyes” (בלתי אל המן עינינו) and the subsequent depiction, drawn from tradition and/or the Priestly (or combined) text of Exod 16’s description of the manna provision.

The new emphasis in Numbers 11 on the manna provision and its positive qualities go hand in hand with the elements of punishment that we find in the story in its present form, all of which I believe were added in the revision. In the earlier form of the story, YHWH simply provides the people with a month’s worth of quail. (See appendix for details and full reconstruction.)

Buying Food from Edomites and Moabites

Deuteronomy 2:6-7, 28-29 suggests that the manna tradition was not universally known. Here we read that God provided Israel with food and water towards the end of their journey in the wilderness by arranging that food and water be sold to them by the Edomites and Moabites as Israel traversed their territories (contra Deut. 23:5!). Verse 7 assumes that before arriving in the Transjordan, God took care of Israel’s needs in some unspecified way (“provided them with everything”) but makes no mention of the miraculous daily provision of manna.

Moreover, the narrative shows no awareness of the tradition that manna came down from heaven for the full extension of the forty-year wanderings until the crossing of the Jordan River (contrast, e.g., Exod 16:35 and Josh 5:12), which would make this more mundane form of divine provision of food unnecessary and certainly anticlimactic. In fact, this bothered traditional commentators such as ibn Ezra and Bechor Shor, who make sure to note (glosses on Deut 2:6) that this was for “recreational buying” but that the Israelites didn’t really need these provisions because of the manna.

From Suffering to Manna

Finally, a similar process to what I have suggested for Numbers 11, where manna is introduced secondarily, seems to lie behind Deuteronomy 8:2-3 and 15-16.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 reads:

דברים ח:ב וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הֹלִיכֲךָ יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ לָדַעַת אֶת אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר מצותו [מִצְו‍ֹתָיו] אִם לֹא. ח:ג וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי יְ־הוָה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם.
Deut 8:2 Remember the long way that YHWH your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 8:3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of YHWH.

This passage tells us that God led the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years in order to “humble” them or, perhaps more accurately, in order to cause them to suffer (למען ענותך). The purpose of this divine infliction of pain was to test their devotion to God and to his commandments, and to teach them that people do not live on bread alone.

The reference to the manna in this context is counterintuitive. How does eating bread from the sky teach that “man does not live on bread alone”? Also, how does eating manna connect to starvation? Manna, according to other biblical texts (e.g., Exod 16, Num 11, Ps 78:24-25), is how the Israelites avoided starvation! The manna provision is typically referred to in the Bible as one of God’s great acts of gracious benevolence, yet here the verse implies that manna was an inferior and unpleasant food designed to test whether the Israelites would follow God despite the fact that they needed to eat manna. Why would Moses interpret the manna in this negative way?

Starvation in the Wilderness

Once again, I believe the answer is that the manna is a secondary insertion, which is why I have bolded it above; this section reads perfectly well without this addition. The original text was unaware of the tradition of the manna provision. Unlike Deut 2:7, however, it did not affirm that God provided “everything” for Israel in the wilderness.[6] On the contrary, God made them suffer starvation while at the same time sustained their life, much like what God does for Moses who was said to have survived at the top of Mt. Sinai (or Horeb) without drinking or eating for forty days (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9).

This forty year suffering period came to teach the Israelites that they are dependent upon God rather than on food (not “bread”). It was to remind Israel when they live in the land and eat to their satiety and forget God, of their ultimate dependence on him (cf. vv. 11-14). The mysterious divine sustaining of the bodies of the Israelites in the wilderness without food parallels his mysterious preservation of their clothes and shoes for forty years (Deut 8:4; cf. Deut. 29:4) and perhaps the mysterious divine preservation of Moses’ body as well (Deut 34:7).

Once the tradition of the manna provision became prominent, the text was updated. This was done by adding the reference to the manna and allowing it to stand in contrast with familiar and satisfying לחם, now interpreted as “bread” rather than “food.” The lesson of the test was no longer that, if God so decides, man can live without food, but that man can live without bread, since God can provide manna instead. Since the literary context spoke of hardship and testing, the interpolator had no choice but to present the manna as a form of harsh discipline.

Adding Manna and Water from the Rock

The same updating occurred later in this chapter as well (Deut 8:15-16):

דברים ח:טו הַמּוֹלִיכֲךָ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְעַקְרָב וְצִמָּאוֹן אֲשֶׁר אֵין מָיִם הַמּוֹצִיא לְךָ מַיִם מִצּוּר הַחַלָּמִישׁ. ח:טז הַמַּאֲכִלְךָ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ וּלְמַעַן נַסֹּתֶךָ לְהֵיטִבְךָ בְּאַחֲרִיתֶךָ.
Deut 8:15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 8:16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know,[7] to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.

Here too, the text reads well once the supplement is removed. Unlike the previous case, the text is updated by supplementing both the provision of the manna and water from the rock. The purpose of these additions is not merely to bring the texts into harmony with other traditions which have become prominent, it is to counterbalance the difficult theology that the original texts express, an image of the wandering in the wilderness as a difficult time for Israel in which it was humbled and tested. Without denying that God caused Israel suffering in the wilderness, the supplementors sought to emphasize that this was always mitigated by his compassion and provision.

The Manna and Miriam’s Well

This early tradition that Israel suffered during their wilderness wanderings, and did not have manna as daily automatic food is found elsewhere in the Torah. One version of this tradition, implied in my reconstruction Deuteronomy 8, was that God literally didn’t feed them but kept them alive miraculously as he did for Moses.

Another version, perhaps the one assumed in the original text of Num 11, is that God solved their hunger problems on an ad hoc basis, such as he does by sending quail for 30 days. This parallels what we see in the stories of water in the wilderness, which God solves through ad hoc miracles (see Exod 15:22-27, 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13). The manna account undoes the need for ad hoc solutions, since it means that the Israelites would have had food throughout their wanderings.

Continuous Water in the Wilderness

Although the Torah offers no comparable tradition regarding water, this appears to be what undergirds the later Jewish tradition about Miriam’s well, which followed the Israelites around for most of the wilderness period—until Miriam’s death—providing them with water.

The earliest tradition for this comes from the Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo (1st-2ndcent. C.E.):

There are three things that God gave to his people on account of three persons: that is, the well of water of Marah for Miriam and the pillar of cloud for Aaron and the manna for Moses. After these three people died, these three things were taken away from them (the Israelites).

This same tradition appears in Tosefta Soṭah (11:1-2):

כל זמן שהיתה מרים קיימת היתה באר מספקת את ישראל מהו או’ ותמת שם מרים ולא היה מים לעדה שנסתלקה הבאר.
As long as Miriam was alive, the well would supply Israel [with water]. What is the verse? “Miriam died there… and there was no water for the people to drink” (Num 20:1-2) – because the well disappeared.

The Tosefta continues with the same two other miracles, the cloud for Aaron and the manna for Moses.[8] The manna account and the post-biblical well account are in stark contrast to the earlier traditions, which emphasized suffering in the wilderness, all of which were eventually supplemented to include the manna tradition. Undoubtedly, its emphasis on divine goodness and benevolence contributed to its spread and eventual dominance in the Bible.

Appendix

The Stages of the Quail Story and the Added Punishment

As described above, in the earlier form of this story the people have nothing at all to eat when they ask for meat and God responds by miraculously supplying them with 30 days’ worth of quail. Once the element of manna was added into the story, however, the nature of the complaint had to change. After all, if the Israelites were being provided with manna from heaven, then they cannot be starving but are merely exaggerating based on a craving for meat and variety.

This new complaint, in turn, brought about a modification in the divine response, since such ingratitude can reasonably bring along with it YHWH’s wrath and punishment. If the complaint for food was nothing but an ungrateful rejection of God’s benevolent provision of manna, no wonder that he supplemented his provision of quails with death and destruction (cf. vv. 18, 20, 34-35).

Below is my suggested division of the quail story into an original layer and a redaction.[9] The redaction includes the manna as well as the theme of sin and punishment.

יא:ד וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה
11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving;

Gloss: Once the story is about wanting meat in addition to manna, the question arose as to how the Israelites could be so brazen. The confusing word גם (also) in the opening verse provided the hook. Instead of understanding it as “also cried” it was understood as “also the Israelites” implying someone else started this rebellion. The term “craving” connects this story with the new ending, which names the place of this sin “Graves of Craving” (קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה).

וַיֵשְׁבוּ[10] וַיִּבְכּוּ גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ
and the Israelites sat and also wept, and said,
מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר.
“If only we had meat to eat!

Gloss: It is very awkward to present a lusting after meat followed by a nostalgic recollection of all the vegetables of Egypt! It would have made more sense for them to recall the “fleshpots” (סיר הבשר) in Egypt (Exod. 16:3). Originally, then, the Israelites simply mourned the fact that they had no food now and rightly recalled that in Egypt they had food to eat. They are starving and they want food, not meat. The presentation of them as “lusting” for the luxury of meat consumption serves to depict Israel negatively as demanding that which was unnecessary. It goes together with the new affirmation that the Israelites had manna to live on and that this was good food.

יא:ה זָכַרְנוּ אֶת הַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם חִנָּם אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים וְאֶת הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת הַבְּצָלִים וְאֶת הַשּׁוּמִים. יא:ווְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה אֵין כֹּל
11:5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 11:6 but now our throats are dried up, and there is nothing at all
בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ. יא:ז וְהַמָּן כִּזְרַע גַּד הוּא וְעֵינוֹ כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח.יא:ח שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן. יא:טוּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל הַמַּחֲנֶה לָיְלָה יֵרֵד הַמָּן עָלָיו.
but this manna to look at.” 11:7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 11:8 The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 11:9 When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

Gloss: Due to the prominence of the manna tradition, it was added here including a basic explanation to the readers of what it looked like, tasted like, etc. This change prompted all the other changes.

יא:י וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם בֹּכֶה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָיו אִישׁ לְפֶתַח אָהֳלוֹ
11:10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents.
וַיִּחַר אַף יְ־הוָה מְאֹד וּבְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה רָע.
Then YHWH became very angry, and Moses was displeased.

Gloss: Once the request for food became the request for variety, YHWH and Moses cannot simply respond with miraculous intervention, but must be angered by the people’s chutzpah.

יא:יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְ־הוָה // יא:יגמֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר לָתֵת לְכָל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר תְּנָה לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה. //
11:11 So Moses said to YHWH // 11:13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ //

Gloss: Verse 13 it depicts the Israelites weeping for meat. Also, it depicts the Israelites as weeping עלי i.e., against Moses. But there is no indication that the original weeping was against Moses. This again serves to depict the Israelites as rebellious.

יא:טז וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה // יא:יח וְאֶל הָעָם תֹּאמַר הִתְקַדְּשׁוּ לְמָחָר וַאֲכַלְתֶּם בָּשָׂר
11:16 So YHWH said to Moses, // 11:18 And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat;
כִּי בְּכִיתֶם בְּאָזְנֵי יְ־הוָה לֵאמֹר מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם וְנָתַן יְ־הוָה לָכֶם בָּשָׂר וַאֲכַלְתֶּם.
since you have wailed in the hearing of YHWH, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt,’ therefore YHWH will give you meat, and you shall eat.

Gloss: Originally, God responded graciously to the legitimate Israelite weeping with a surprise: not only would he feed them, but he would give them meat! With the addition, he unhappily agrees to fulfill their illegitimate craving for meat and interprets Israel’s recollection of the accurate fact that in Egypt they at least had what to eat as a rebellious affirmation that life was thoroughly good there.

יא:יט לֹא יוֹם אֶחָד תֹּאכְלוּן וְלֹא יוֹמָיִם וְלֹא חֲמִשָּׁה יָמִים וְלֹא עֲשָׂרָה יָמִים וְלֹא עֶשְׂרִים יוֹם. יא:כ עַד חֹדֶשׁ יָמִים
11:19 You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days,11:20 but for a whole month—
עַד אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מֵאַפְּכֶם וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְזָרָא יַעַן כִּי מְאַסְתֶּם אֶת יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַתִּבְכּוּ לְפָנָיו לֵאמֹר לָמָּה זֶּה יָצָאנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם.
until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you– because you have rejected YHWH who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?'”

Gloss: The editor converts the thirty day provision of meat into a punishment by having God say that the Israelites will become nauseous from it. The Israelite recollection of the fact that they had what to eat in Egypt is now depicted as an outright rejection of God.

יא:כא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת אֶלֶף רַגְלִי הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ בָּשָׂר אֶתֵּן לָהֶם וְאָכְלוּ חֹדֶשׁ יָמִים. יא:כב הֲצֹאן וּבָקָר יִשָּׁחֵט לָהֶם וּמָצָא לָהֶם
11:21 But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! 11:22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them?
אִם אֶת כָּל דְּגֵי הַיָּם יֵאָסֵף לָהֶם וּמָצָא לָהֶם.
Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?”

Gloss: The question “are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them” reflects Moses’ puzzlement as to how God intends to realistically accomplish his word. The question “are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them” implies, on the other hand, that the Israelites are a wicked and rebellious people. Food is not really their problem because all the fish in the sea wouldn’t satisfy them!

יא:כג וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה הֲיַד יְ־הוָה תִּקְצָר עַתָּה תִרְאֶה הֲיִקְרְךָ דְבָרִי אִם לֹא. יא:כד וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל הָעָם אֵת דִּבְרֵי יְ־הוָה. //
11:23 YHWH said to Moses, “Is YHWH’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” 11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of YHWH. //
יא:לא וְרוּחַ נָסַע מֵאֵת יְ־הוָה וַיָּגָז שַׂלְוִים מִן הַיָּם וַיִּטֹּשׁ עַל הַמַּחֲנֶה כְּדֶרֶךְ יוֹם כֹּה וּכְדֶרֶךְ יוֹם כֹּה סְבִיבוֹת הַמַּחֲנֶה וּכְאַמָּתַיִם עַל פְּנֵי הָאָרֶץ. יא:לב וַיָּקָם הָעָם כָּל הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וְכָל הַלַּיְלָה וְכֹל יוֹם הַמָּחֳרָת וַיַּאַסְפוּ אֶת הַשְּׂלָו הַמַּמְעִיט אָסַף עֲשָׂרָה חֳמָרִים וַיִּשְׁטְחוּ לָהֶם שָׁטוֹחַ סְבִיבוֹת הַמַּחֲנֶה.
11:31 Then a wind went out from YHWH, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground.11:32 So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.
יא:לג הַבָּשָׂר עוֹדֶנּוּ בֵּין שִׁנֵּיהֶם טֶרֶם יִכָּרֵת וְאַף יְ־הוָה חָרָה בָעָם וַיַּךְ יְ־הוָה בָּעָם מַכָּה רַבָּה מְאֹד. יא:לד וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה כִּי שָׁם קָבְרוּ אֶת הָעָם הַמִּתְאַוִּים.
11:33 But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of YHWH was kindled against the people, and YHWH struck the people with a very great plague. 11:34 So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (“Graves of Craving”), because there they buried the people who had the craving.

Gloss: The negative ending is secondary. It supplies an etiology for Kibroth-hattaavah (“Graves of Craving”) based on the lusting for meat of verse 4a. Possibly, the original story took place in the wilderness in general in an unspecified location. Etiologies, in any event, are frequently considered supplementary.

Published

June 8, 2017

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Last Updated

October 17, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi David Frankel did his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Professor Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School (VTSupp. 89) and The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel (Eisenbrauns). He teaches Hebrew Bible to M.A. and Rabbinical students at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.