Parsha Notes: B’shallah (5777)
Midrashim often tell us less about the plain meaning of one verse, and more about what our sages thought concerning an other verse. Two good examples come from this week’s readings.
The Torah tells us how the manna tasted like honey wafers (or oil cakes) but the sages say that the manna took on whatever taste the eater desired. This midrash is obviously not the p’shat, plain meaning, because it contradicts two verses explicitly and brings up problems with others.
Now, let us look at other classic midrashim concerning the manna:
The manna would melt, and the run-off would be eaten by wild gazelles and the like, which non-Jews would catch, so that when they would eat the venison, it had the heavenly taste of the manna.
Depending on one’s spiritual status, that is where he would find his daily manna. The unworthy would have to go far from the camp, while the worthy would get it right to their doors.
Everyone miraculously gathered his fair and sufficient portion, an ‘omer, no matter how much he actually thought he gathered.
Joshua consumed an amount of manna equal to that of the entire rest of the nation combined.
The manna fell in the merit of Moses.
All of these midrashim are expressions of how our sages viewed the importance of Torah study. “The Torah has 70 facets,” and “turn it over and over, for everything is in it.” The multiplicity of flavors is code for the idea that all of the other wisdoms are included in the Torah. The proximity of the manna alludes to the idea that one, through Torah study, can come across whatever other intellectual delights he seeks. Those who are worthy, that is, they expend the proper effort, merit divine assistance in their pursuit of scholarship and knowledge, yet all Israel have a share in the Torah, and the crown of Torah is there for the taking, and this is alluded to by the idea that all received an ‘omer. Joshua, as the attendant of the study tent, was the greatest mathmid of his generation, and became the main conduit of the the mosaic tradition, and therefore consumed enough Torah for the entire nation. Israel’s study and exemplification of the Torah’s values and way of life indirectly influences the nations of the world, who also get a taste of the Torah so that they know what it is the Jewish people enjoy. Lastly, it was in the the merit of Moses, the lawgiver whose life’s mission was to teach the people the Torah, that the manna fell.
All of these sublime ideas are encapsulated in Moses’s own words later, in Deuteronomy (8:3):
And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.
Our sages did not just view the story of the manna as one about miraculous food. Rather, it was the lesson learned from the manna. We live by keeping the Torah. Midrashim concerning this section of Exodus reflect how our sages understood Deuteronomy.
In this week’s haftara we read (Judges 5:12):
Uri, Uri, Awaken, Awaken, Deborah! Awaken, Awaken, Utter a song. Arise, Barak, and take your captives, O’ son of Abinoam.
To which Rashi comments:
Uri is an expression of praise, as in its plain meaning: Become firm in your praise. But our Rabbis said, because she praised herself by saying (v. 7) “Until I Deborah arose,” the Divine spirit left her (therefore she had to arouse (l’orer) it).
The complete verse is:
The open cities ceased, in Israel they ceased, until I Deborah arose; I arose as a mother in Israel.
The midrash, I believe, is also alluding to an exchange between Deborah and Barak recorded earlier. Deborah had told Barak that God had told him to
Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun. And I shall draw to you, to the brook Kishon, Sisera, the head of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will give him into your hand.’
But Barak did not readily go.
Barak said to her, “If you will go with me then I shall go, but if you will not go with me, I shall not go.”
To which Deborah responded with another prophecy:
And she said, “I shall surely go with you, but your glory will not be on the way which you go, for into the hand of a woman will the Lord deliver Sisera.”
Deborah let him know that the credit for ultimate victory would go to a woman, and she thought it would be her, because she was now the only woman joining the Israelites in battle against Sisera. Deborah would end up the heroine. However, she was not correct in this regard, because it was ultimately into the hand of Yael that Sisera was delivered, a surprise to both Barak and Deborah. The sages saw a hint of excessive pride in Deborah’s words.