Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ekev 5766/ August 12, 2006

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Manna as Moralizing

 

 Menahem Ben-Yashar

 

Ashkelon College

 

The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy, which are the reprimanding or moralizing section of the book, [1] retell many of the events that happened during the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, events previously recounted in the books of Exodus and Numbers:  the exodus from Egypt (Deut. 11:3), the splitting of the Red Sea (loc. sit., 4), the appointment of judges (Deut. 1:9-18), the Theophany at Mount Sinai (Deut. 4:10-20, 5), the golden calf (Deut. 9:4-10:5), the sin of the spies (Deut. 1:22-45), the uprising by Korah and his followers (Deut. 11:6), crossing through the countries in the Transjordan (Deut. 1:41-2:23), conquering parts of that area (Deut. 2:24-3:20), Aaron dying (Deut. 10:6) and it being decreed that his brother Moses would die (Deut. 4:21-22), and the sin of Ba’al Peor (Deut. 4:3).   When these events were described at length in earlier books, the moral for future generations was only intimated.  In Deuteronomy, in contrast, the message to future generations is the main point and in many of the stories it is even stated explicitly, as befits the oration of a leader prior to his death, a speech comprising his ethical will for future generations.

In this context an entire chapter of this week’s reading, chapter 8, is devoted to the manna in the wilderness, and on the same subject, to the other acts of the Lord’s grace to the Israelites in the wilderness, providing them water and clothing.  These things were also recounted in previous books:   the manna, in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11, and providing water, in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13.   In this week’s reading the Torah presents the Lord’s concern for sustaining His people in the wilderness, providing them food, water, and clothing, as an illustration and precedent for His concern for their needs in the future, when they shall dwell in the land of Canaan.

This precedent was necessary, since when they would come to the good land, the land of Canaan, they were destined to do well there by virtue of two strengths:   nature, providing the rain that makes fertile soil bloom, and the strength of man, with his talents and enterprise, harnessing the force of nature.  Hence the precedent of the wilderness, where they ate manna, grain from heaven, and drank water that issued miraculously from the flinty rock.   They witnessed outright with their own eyes that their sustenance came to them from heaven, and in the promised land they would be sustained by a hidden miracle, coming from agents of the Creator.  For did not He create Nature, and does He not determine and set into action the laws of nature?   “Remember that it is the Lord your G-d who gives you the power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18) – it is He who gives human beings the intelligence and initiative to harness the forces of nature for their own welfare.

We note that also in the Torah’s first passage about the manna, in Exodus 16, there are two lessons to be learned for the future.   First, after gathering the manna each day they miraculously had in their vessels a fixed quantity for each family member, and whatever was left over for the next day became rotten.   This was to teach the generations of Israel to live meagerly, making do with as little as necessary [2] and trusting in the Lord that they would have sustenance on the morrow as well.

The second precedent concerned the Sabbath.   In the very beginning of G-d’s words to Moses about the manna that would descend from heaven to provide the Israelites sustenance, the Lord informed him about the Sabbath, as well:   “But on the sixth day, when they stand (= ve-hekhinu) [3] in their tents, measuring the manna that they collected on Friday, it shall be double the amount they gather each day” (Ex. 16:5).   They would find miraculously that it had become blessed and doubled in quantity, as indeed happened:   “all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses” (Ex. 16:22).   The people and their chieftains were surprised, from which we conclude that Moses had not relayed to them beforehand what the Lord had told him concerning the sixth day.   It turns out that he had deliberately not told them, [4] precisely so that they would be surprised, would ask about it and be answered, and thus they would internalize the matter of the Sabbath.  Indeed, Moses answered their expression of wonderment, saying, “this is what the Lord meant:  Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath of the Lord,” and he commanded them, “Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil [for their needs on Friday], and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning [of the Sabbath]” (16:23).

The illustration of observance of the Sabbath in this passage is reinforced by Moses’ words to those Israelites who transgressed the Lord’s command and went out to gather manna on the Sabbath as well.   Moses rebuked them, saying, “Mark that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you two days’ food on the sixth day” (16:29).   “Mark” – Moses asks them to pay attention to the exceptional occurrence of a double portion of bread coming to them on the sixth day and no manna on the Sabbath.   This phenomenon was to teach the Israelites for all generations about the sanctity of the Sabbath, including the generations following that of the wilderness, when the natural order of things would not be different on the Sabbath as opposed to other days.

There was another reason and need for this sign from heaven:   since the creation of the universe and until the Israelites were encamped in the wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1), there had not been any observance of the Sabbath in the world; [5] there was not a soul who observed a day of rest.  Therefore, before being commanded about the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19:8-11), it was necessary to establish the days on which the Sabbath would fall.  Since the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sin on the fifteenth of Iyar (Ex. 16:1), it turns out that on that very day they hungered and complained, and on the same day Moses was commanded concerning the manna, including the matter of the Sabbath.  On the following morning the manna first descended from heaven (Ex. 16:6-7, 13-14), and the “sixth day” (16:5), about which Moses had been told, fell on the 21st of Iyar, so the first Sabbath that the Israelites celebrated was the 22nd of Iyar.   It turns out that Moses was given the first mention and first command concerning the Sabbath on the 15th of Iyar, which by calculating backwards turns out also to have been a Sabbath. [6]

Thus we see that the manna which descended from heaven was not only to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness, on their way to the land of Canaan, but also to educate them, providing them guidance for their life in the future, in Canaan.



[1] Some scholars define chapters 1-4 as the introductory speech of Moses and view chapter 5 as introducing the “speech on the commandments” (which in the above division does not begin until chapter 12, or the end of 11); see M. Z. Segal, Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim I, Tel Aviv 1960, pp. 35-36.   However, the repetition of the Ten Commandments in chapter 5 does not fall within the “speech of the commandments” since the mitzvot in Deuteronomy are never repeated in large units of text in language close to that which appeared in earlier books, while the Ten Commandments are identical to their form in Exodus. Hence, they are presented as part of the events at Mount Sinai, for purposes of moralizing. 

[2] The second passage in the Bible about the manna (Numbers 11) also has an element of preaching against gluttony (cf. loc. sit., verses 18-20, 31-34).   Although there it is connected with eating quail flesh, nevertheless the stories of the manna and the quail appear together, both in Numbers and Exodus.

[3] This appears to be the plain sense of the text, according to the biblical use of the root k – w – n (of ve-hekhinu), which has to do with standing or being firm.  The Sages derived from this verse the commandment of preparing (hakhanah) for the Sabbath (Mekhilta Be-Shalah, Va-Yasa 2, p. 101; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai 16.5, p.107;  Babylonian Talmud, Betzah 2b, Eruvin 38b), according to the Talmudic and modern sense of the root.  This was part of their practice—called Midrash Halakhah-- to grasp at hints in Scriptures to substantiate the rules of Halakhah, especially those concerning the Sabbath, which are likened to “mountains hanging on a thread” (Hagigah 1.8).

[4] In contrast to the Sages (Leviticus Rabbah 13.1, pp. 269-270; Tanhuma Buber Be-Shalah 24, p. 34b; Exodus Rabbah 25.4), who said that Moses, in his anger (Ex. 16:21), forgot to tell the Israelites about the Sabbath.

[5] Following the trend of dating back observance of the commandments in general to the time of the Patriarchs (thought of as representing the ideal Israel), and especially observance of the Sabbath, which had been established in the six days of Creation (Gen. 2:1-3), the Sages ascribed observance of the Sabbath to the Patriarchs (Gen. Rabbah 64.4, p. 703; 79.6, p.945), or to the time of the bondage in Egypt (Exodus Rabbah 1.28, p.86; 5.18, p.175).   Likewise, according to the Sages, the commandment was included in the first codex of laws given after the exodus from Egypt, at Marah (Ex. 15:25; see Seder Olam Rabbah 5, pp. 24-25; Mekhilta, Be-Shalah, Va-Yasa 1, p. 156; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, 15.25, p. 105; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b).

[6] This is according to the schedule of events in the Mekhilta, Be-Shalah, Va-Yasa, p. 159; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, 16.1, p. 105; 241, and also in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 87b.   According to the calendar of Seder Olam Rabbah 5, however (p. 26), the “sixth day” was the fifteenth of Iyar, the evening on which the quail had come (Ex. 16:7, 12-13); see the editor’s note, loc. sit.