Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding Parshat Ha'Man

EDIT: Okay, so after more days of digging through this portion I noticed something else that sort of throws a wrench in my "food specific" issue. At the beginning of the portion HaShem says he'll provide basar in the evening and lechem in the morning. It's only when the people actually receive the food that we read that the basar was specifically quail (shlav). This raises two questions for me:
  1. Quail is considered fowl, but here it is specifically called basar or meat. So why is there such a gripe with chicken and other fowl being considered meat when it comes to the separation of meat and milk? 
  2. Is it possible that the Israelites were valid in their request to understand what lechem exactly they were getting, since HaShem went from broad to specific with their evening course (i.e., basar to shlav and lechem to ....?)

I've been reading with astonishing regularity Parshat Ha'man -- the portion of the Torah in Exodus in which HaShem hears the people kvetching and gives them manna to keep them fed during the 40 years in the desert. The idea behind reading the portion every day is that it's a segula for parnassah. 

Okay, that's a lot of words you might be unfamiliar with. In Judaism there are many different types of segulas or things that Jews do to try and change the course or the way things are. It can be a procedure of activities or simply a prayer, but the idea is that it will create a change or provide some type of new "luck."

In this case, the segula for parnassah (or livelihood) is to say Parshat Ha'man every day for forty days (except on Shabbat). It's not magic, but some people find it kind of hokey. Other people have different segulas for getting pregnant (go to the mikvah after a woman who has several children) or for meeting a spouse.

So I've been reading the portion about manna, and with every day I read new questions arise. It's not an incredibly long portion, so the small things slowly start to create questions without answers.

The basic summary of the portion is that the people are kvetching about their situation in the wilderness, so HaShem says he'll provide them with quail in the evening and bread (lechem) in the morning to eat. As it goes, there are specific instructions about when to go out and collect the bread, and every person is to gather only according to their needs and the needs of their house. The people went out to collect it, and marveled at the miracle said, "man hu?" meaning "what is it?" and henceforth called it man instead of lechem. On the sixth day, the people are told to take a double portion for the Sabbath. Some people disobeyed and HaShem lamented the people disobeying the command. For the next 40 years the people ate the man and then entered the land.

My biggest beef with the portion so far has been in understanding the food -- there's quail, there's lechem (bread), and there's the man. In reality, the man and lechem are the same thing, with the main difference being that HaShem, Aharon, and Moshe insist on calling it lechem and the people seem to be averse to the term, marveling and calling it man.

Moshe even seems irritated at the people, reiterating that it's lechem. It seems to me that he's saying "Seriously, people, it's bread, that's what it is, and you know what bread is!"

So here's my question: Why do the people insist on not knowing what it is? Why do they insist on calling it man instead of lechem? Is it emblematic of the rest of the portion, of the people being resistant and stubborn, blind to what is before their eyes?