Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The taste of manna

This thing (is it called a meme?) generated a lively Facebook conversation the other day that touched on several issues both near and dear to my heart. Let's begin at the beginning:

In some circles its a an article of of faith that the manna contained every possible flavor. This is taught in BT Yoma, and by every grade school teacher, and seems to be in direct opposition to the plain meaning of a biblical verse (Exodus 16:31):

לא  וַיִּקְרְאוּ בֵית-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מָן; וְהוּא, כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן, וְטַעְמוֹ, כְּצַפִּיחִת בִּדְבָשׁ.31 And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

Later, we're also told (Numbers 11):

ז  וְהַמָּן, כִּזְרַע-גַּד הוּא; וְעֵינוֹ, כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח.7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. (an aromatic gum)
ח  שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם, אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה, וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר, וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת; וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ, כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן.8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.

This seems straightforward enough -- manna tasted like honey wafers or oil cake - yet  elsewhere a very different point is made about the accouterments enjoyed by the Israelites during their travels.(Deut 2:7)

ז  כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֵּרַכְךָ, בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶךָ--יָדַע לֶכְתְּךָ, אֶת-הַמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה:  זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ עִמָּךְ--לֹא חָסַרְתָּ, דָּבָר.7 For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the work of thy hand; He hath known thy walking through this great wilderness; these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.'

See the problem? If all the Israelites had to eat was manna, how could Moshe assert that they "lacked nothing." Therefore, it must be that everything imaginable was contained in maana.

An aggada on Numbers 11:8, recorded on BT Yoma 75 defends this idea, based on a pun on the word לְשַׁד

As any fan of Coupling knows, in Hebrew breasts are "shadayim", but the word (misogyny alert) also connects to shaydim, or demons.

R. Abbuha said: [Do not read le-shad (cake), but shad (breast)] viz: Just as the infant finds very many a flavour in the breast, so also did Israel find many a taste in the manna as long as they were eating it. Some there are who say: [‘Le-shad’ means] a real demon; even as the demon changes into many colours, so did the manna change into many tastes.
This is the background.

Now, can the word "liar" be used to describe school teacher who omits all of this, and instead teaches nothing but the myth of the manna's magical properties? Is such a teacher "denying" Exodus 16:31 and Number 11:8, as the mem, or whatever its called, suggests?

No, of course not. He's a lousy teacher who dramatically underestimates his students. He's cheapening the tradition and robbing his charges of their heritage. And he's probably lazy to boot. But he's neither a liar nor a heretic.
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