“Foodies” everywhere might appreciate the fact that some people see the exceptionally wide variety of textures and flavors that are found in food as proof of God’s desire for humankind to not only live in the world, but to enjoy it as well.

One can see this unique form of compassion in God’s treatment of the Israelites in the Wilderness. When the Children of Israel complained that they did not have any food in the Wilderness (and that they prefer to go back to Egypt), God could have simply taken away the sensation of hunger or provided them with simple bread and water. Instead, despite the peoples’ complaints, God provided the Israelites with this gift of  “manna.”

Physically, the manna is described as being “a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14) that lay just under the morning dew upon the Wilderness each morning (except on Shabbat). Furthermore, it is described as being “like coriander seed, white” (Exodus 16:31).

Exodus 16:31 states that the raw manna tasted “like wafers made with honey,” and Numbers 11 records that when it was ground and made into cakes, “the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil” (11:8). According to Jewish tradition, however, the manna was an extraordinary food to eat because it tasted like whatever a person desired*. This tradition is based on the statement in Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9:: “Rabbi Jose ben Hanina says: … the manna that descended with a taste varying according to the needs of each individual Israelite. The young men, eating it as bread…the old, as wafers made with honey…to the babes, it tasted like the milk from their mothers’ breasts…to the sick, it was like fine flour mingled with honey.

It is interesting to note, that long before the peoples’ complaints, God was already prepared to provide food in the wilderness. It is recorded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, that the manna was one of the ten things created by God at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbat” (5:9).

*According to Rashi, quoting Midrash Sifri, Manna could taste like any food except the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic because these foods might be harmful to nursing mothers.

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