Midrash About Food and Drink

In this week’s Torah portion, we read of the Israelites complaining about the food available to eat (Num. 11:4-6):

מִ֥י יַאֲכִלֵ֖נוּ בָּשָֽׂר זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נֹאכַ֥ל בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם חִנָּ֑ם אֵ֣ת הַקִּשֻּׁאִ֗ים וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲבַטִּחִ֔ים וְאֶת־הֶחָצִ֥יר וְאֶת־הַבְּצָלִ֖ים וְאֶת־הַשּׁוּמִֽים וְעַתָּ֛ה נַפְשֵׁ֥נוּ יְבֵשָׁ֖ה אֵ֣ין כֹּ֑ל בִּלְתִּ֖י אֶל־הַמָּ֥ן עֵינֵֽינוּ

If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!

While this week’s Torah portion then recounts how delicious the מן manna was (Num. 11:7-9), that was somehow insufficient for their consumption in the desert. While we are on the topic of consumption (albeit not of beverages), there is a midrash that does relate this complaint to include beverages (Sifrei 87):

ר’ שמעון אומר מפני מה המן משתנה להם לכל דבר שהיו רוצים חוץ מחמשת המינים הללו? משל למלך בשר ודם שמסר בנו לפדגוג, והיה יושב ומפקדו ואומר לו: הנראה שלא יאכל מאכל רע, ולא ישתה משקה רע! ובכל כך היה הבן ההוא מתרעם על אביו, לומר: לא מפני שאוהבני, אלא שאי אפשר לו שאוכל

Rabbi Shimon says: “On account of what did the manna change for them into anything that they wanted, except  into these five things (i.e. cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic)? This is analogous to a king handing over his to a pedagogue and charges him: ‘See to it that he does not eat any bad foods, nor drink any bad beverages.’ And with all of this [protection], the son grumbles at his father, saying: ‘It is not because he loves me, but because he does not want me to eat!'”

This midrash is curious for a few reasons. The first is that, according to Rabbi Shimon, this מן manna would be able to taste like any food except for just these five ground products, which is a curious opinion – does that also include meat? Fish?

Setting that aside, another curious aspect is the analogy he deploys – is this to indicate to us that these five foods would be harmful to the Israelites in the desert?

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