Metaphors in the Torah: Manna and Quails



Illustration: "Jacob's Dream" by Gustave Dor'e

For whatever reason, many of the stories in the Torah appear twice; each time with a slightly different narrative. As discussed in previous articles, the Hebrew word for meat also means preaching and is also the word used for the gospels. So, as noted, “The Gospel of Mark”, in Hebrew, can be translated as: “The Meats of Mark”. We also discussed that a bird is a metaphor for a spiritual intermediary between two levels of understanding, which in this case is: the earth and the sky. Thus we gave as an example: “Zipporah”, who was the wife of Moses and the daughter of the Median priest Jethro, and we mention that it was Zipporah who intervened between Moses and the wrath of God (The Name: "Zipporah" means: "female bird")

Another point of discussion in previous articles was that a slave is a metaphor for a person who is forced to accept the religious ideas of another people. We then went on to explain that bread is a metaphor for the Torah and that the wheat fields which Joseph supervised in Egypt were really a metaphor for a network of religious schools. Accordingly, when we are told that Joseph took the people’s land and enslaved them in exchange for wheat, we can understand this to mean that Joseph closed down their religious schools and compelled them to follow his religious ideas. Thus, we are told that Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest.

We also discussed in other articles that each type of food is a metaphor for a specific type of knowledge and that the name: “Sinai” means: “scholarship”. In addition we have shown, repeatedly, that land is a metaphor for a school and that, in Hebrew, the word for: “desert” is the present tense of the verb: “to talk”. Our conclusion was that the name: “Sinai Desert” represented: “academic dialogues” and the name: “Mount Sinai” represented a “high level of scholarship”.

Nevertheless, what needs to be understood here is that the Hebrew word usually translated as either a desert or a wilderness, in fact, means neither. The Hebrew word: “mid-bar” actually means a place for grazing animals and that in ancient times one of the Hebrew words associated with: “grass” meant: “ideas”. Thus, the story of the shepherds of Lot arguing with the shepherds of Abraham over grazing land, takes on an entirely new meaning when we begin to appreciate that the Hebrew word for: “shepherd” means: “one who can see” and “sheep” are “meat”. Therefore, the argument between Lot’s servants and Abraham’s servants has to do with theology, not animal husbandry.  

Thus, when we see the Israelites in Sinai Desert complaining that they don’t have enough food and that they want to return to the slavery of Egypt, what we are actually being told is that the explanations about God which Moses had provided to the Israelites, up to that point in time, did not satisfy them. So, in other words, the Israelites were saying something to the effect: “Maybe the Egyptian religion wasn’t entirely true, but, when we asked questions, we received full and detailed answers and explanations, whereas you are providing us with no information at all”.

What also must be understood here is that while the Israelites are in the Sinai desert, the actual location given is: “The Wilderness of Sin”. First off, let’s make it absolutely clear that this is a Hebrew name and has nothing to do with the English word: “sin” and bad behavior. In addition, there is no Hebrew word: “sin”.  Scholars now think it was probably a typo and the correct word should be: “Tzin” spelt with the Hebrew letter “za-dek” which sounds like the English letter: “C”. This Hebrew word: “Tzin” means: “thorn” and should be associated with the story of Adam and Eve. God told Adam that when he worked in the field it would produce thorns instead of fruit and this would frustrate him. Thus, Adam was unable to receive the knowledge he wanted and instead obtained thorns and, in this story, the Israelites are complaining that they have not received enough knowledge about God. Also, it should be pointed out that God did not actually curse Adam, it was the land which was cursed.

Why I believe I am justified in making this conclusion is that in the second version of the story of the quails, found in Numbers 11, smack in the middle of the narrative about craving meat, there is a second story about appointing 70 leaders of the community as judges. Generally speaking, it is these 70 men who are considered to be the first teachers of the oral law, hence the connection between meat, teachers and intermediaries between heaven and earth (it should be explained here that the Hebrew words for: “sky” and “heaven” are the same, so a bird then takes on the role of one who is in contact with both levels of understanding).

The second source of food provided to the Israelites is: “manna” and we are told this is a type of bread from heaven which will fall from the sky like rain and tastes like honey. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses will explain that his words are like a heavy down pour of rain. In other articles, we showed that water is a metaphor for explanations about God. Bread, as we have also mentioned in other articles, is a metaphor for the Torah, hence the well known rabbinical saying: “The Torah is the bread of life”. Furthermore, honey was also discussed in a previous article and we noted that the roots of the ancient forms of the words for: “a bee” and “a word” were the same. Thus, bees work together to produce honey and words work together to produce knowledge.

All this is well and good, but the main issue we have to deal with is: Why didn’t God want the Israelites to have food and water? Why was Moses prevented from entering the Promised Land because he supplied the Israelites with water? And:  Why were the strangers and Israelites who initially craved meat struck down dead? Finally: Why did God place restrictions on when and where the Israelites could search for food?

In order to answer these questions, I believe it is necessary to recall that we really know very little about the religious practices of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yet we are told in no uncertain terms that the reason Abraham was selected by God for the covenant was that God knew that Abraham would teach God’s ways to his descendants.  Yes, but: What exactly were those ways? This we are never told....

In modern times, “walking along the way” is a concept associated with following God’s laws. Nevertheless, in the discussion about when and where to collect manna, the Israelites are clearly told that on the Sabbath they should not attempt to find manna and that should remain in their places. Obviously, if one remains in his place then one cannot walk along the way…

We are also told that on the Sabbath it is forbidden to work, but the Hebrew word used here is closer to “creating a piece of art” than to the modern word for work. In addition, we have already noted that the strangers and Israelites were struck down dead for merely craving the meat. They were not killed for eating the meat, otherwise everyone would have been killed.

My conclusion from all these stories is that “God’s ways” and “God’s laws” as originally given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had something to do with sitting still and waiting for God to speak, hence Jacob is described as a “simple man” who sat by the door of his tent (also there is the story of Abraham and the three angles where he too was merely sitting by the entrance to his tent when they arrived). Jacob’s brother Esau, however, is described as: “a skilled hunter”. In other words, Esau was a man who actively went out and searched for meat and we have just discussed what happened to those people in the Sinai Desert who craved meat (Also, it should be recalled that Isaac craved meat as well and Isaac was described as: “blind”).

What links all these stories together? The name: “Adam” means: “red” and Adam eventually produces only thorns and very few fruits of knowledge. The descendants of Esau are called: “the Edomites” which means: “the red men” and Esau chased after meat. Thus, in the “a grazing pasture full of thorns” (the Wilderness of Tzin) the Israelites demand meat and meat is usually associated with the color red as well. I believe it is also worth mentioning that the name: "Edomites" was given to the descendants of Esau because he traded away his birthright as the first born son to Jacob in order to receive some red colored food.

As explained earlier, “the Sinai Desert” is a metaphor for: “academic dialogues” and meat is a metaphor for religious teachings associated with preaching. Hence, to rest on the Sabbath means: not to work on creating religious interpretations or developing religious ideas about God’s ways by ourselves. To rest on the Sabbath means not to actively seek out religious teachers or scholars. To rest on the Sabbath means not to preach about God to others.

To rest on the Sabbath means to sit quietly and wait patiently for God to speak to us…