Parashat B’shalach

by Rabbi Shelton Donnell & Esther Edelsburg

Parashat is the first portion in Israel’s liberation and immediately there is complaining: first when they see Pharaoh pursuing them following the miracle of the dividing of the Red Sea; then there is their complaint about the lack of water which in turn is followed by their complaint about a lack of food. Time and again the refrain rises, “What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?” (Ex. 14:11)  Miracles and complaints characterize the period of the wandering in the wilderness, which in the portion centers upon the Manna which is both a miracle and a test: “And Adonai 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 test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not’” (Ex. 16:4).

So God caused the Manna to come down from the skies and the people went out each day and gathered enough for that day, only Friday was an exception: “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” (Ex. 16:5). (And it is from this verse, and 16:22, that we derive the custom of serving two loaves of challah ― לחם משנה / Lechem Mishneh for our Shabbat meals).

The Manna “was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey” (Ex. 16:31).  And in the Book of Numbers it is stated, “it tasted like rich cream” (Num. 11:8) ― two very different tastes.  According to the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 75b) it tasted like honey to the young babies and like sweet cream to the elderly.  According to the midrash (Shemot Rabbah 5:9), the taste suited each individual, “I will rain down bread from the skies, etc. ― For the elders like wafers in honey as it is written, ‘…it tasted like wafers in honey’ (Ex. 16:31).  And for the babies it tasted like their mother’s milk as it is written, ‘…it tasted like rich cream’ (Num. 11:8).  And for the sick it tasted like fine flour mixed with honey as it is written, ‘The food that I had given you ― the choice flour, the oil, and the honey, which I provided for you to eat’ (Ezekiel 16:19).  And for the pagans it tasted bitter and like coriander as it is written, ‘the Manna was like coriander seed’ (Num. 11:7).  Rabbi Yose bar Hanina said, ‘…the Manna which was all of one kind became converted into so many kinds to meet the needs of each individual…’.”  Everyone tasted the Manna in their own way.

1)     How might weinterpret this midrash on the different tastes of the Manna?  After a while, the Israelites grew tired of the Manna and demanded meat to eat.  If the Manna was so tasty, why did they despise it so?

2)     One interpretation holds that the different tastes symbolize different ideas.  If everyone holds their own ideas, how can the people be united?  And, how do we know what is good and desirable?

3)     What other lessons might we draw from the story of the Manna?

4)     Miracle and Test ― what is the connection between them?

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