(Chapters 13:17–17:16)


                                              Was the manna a miracle?[1]


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Ethics of the Fathers 5:8 inform us that the manna in Exodus 16:14–36, this “bread from heaven,” was “hidden away from the beginning;” that is, when the world was created.

Should we understand this rabbinical statement literally? What is accomplished by creating the manna when the world was formed and hiding it away until the days of Moses? Maimonides explains, that the rabbis were saying that the manna as well as some other events that people consider miraculous was, like the entire world, part of the laws of nature that God created at the beginning, when the world was formed.

The Israelites are only permitted to gather one measure of manna per person and are required to consume it within twenty-four hours. They were told that if they kept it beyond the twenty-four hours it will rot. Yet, on Friday they were told to gather two measures per person, because they are prohibited from gathering manna on Shabbat.

If we maintain that the manna was not a miracle, how can we explain that the manna generally rotted after twenty-four hours every day except for Shabbat? We can say that it took forty-eight hours to rot, but Moses told the people that since it fell every day and since it was fresher during the first twenty-four hours, they should collect fresh manna each day. However, on Shabbat, because of the rest required on that day, they should not collect it.

On Shabbat, it is customary for Jews to set their table with a white or decorative tablecloth, place two loaves of bread on it, and cover the loaves with a white or decorative cloth. The two loaves are a remembrance of the dual portions of manna that fell on a bedding of dew (represented by the tablecloth) and was covered with protective dew (the covering cloth).

[1] This essay is based on what Dr. Stanley M. Wagner and I placed in our book “What’s Beyond the Bible Text.”