The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses

Author: Louis Ginzberg

The Gathering of the Manna

With an easy mind every individual might perform his morning prayer in his house and recite the Shema’, then betake himself to the entrance of his tent, and gather manna for himself and all his family. [101] The gathering of manna caused little trouble, and those among the people who were too lazy to perform even the slightest work, went out while manna fell, so that it fell straight into their hands. [102] The manna lasted until the fourth hour of the day, when it melted; but even the melted manna was not wasted, for out of it formed the rivers, from which the pious will drink in the hereafter. The heathen even then attempted to drink out of these streams, but the manna that tasted so deliciously to the Jews, had a quite bitter taste in the mouth of the heathen. Only indirectly could they partake of the enjoyment of manna: They used to catch the animals that drank the melted manna, and even it this form it was so delicious that the heathen cried, "Happy is the people that is in such a case." [103] For the descent of manna was not a secret to the heathen, as it settled at such enormous heights that the kings of the East and of the West could see how Israel received its miraculous food. [104]

The mass of the manna was in proportion to its height, for as much descended day by day, as might have satisfied the wants of sixty myriads of people, through two thousand years. [105] Such profusion of manna fell over the body of Joshua alone, as might have sufficed for the maintenance of the whole congregation. [106] Manna, indeed, had the peculiarity of falling to every individual in the same measure; and when, after gathering, they measured it, they found that there was an omer for every man.

Many lawsuits were amicably decided through the fall of manna. If a married couple came before Moses, each accusing the other of inconstancy, Moses would say to them, "To-morrow morning judgement will be given." If, then, manna descended for the wife before the house of her husband, it was known that he was in the right; but if her share descended before the house of her own parents, she was in the right. [107]

The only days on which manna did not descend were the Sabbaths and the holy days, but then a double portion fell on the preceding day. These days had the further distinction that, while they lasted, the color of the manna sparkled more than usual, and it tasted better than usual. The people, however, were fainthearted, and on the very first Sabbath, they wanted to go out as usual to gather manna in the morning, although announcement had been made that God would send them no food on that day. Moses, however, restrained them. They attempted to do it again toward evening, and again Moses restrained them with the words, "To-day ye shall not find it in the field." At these words they were greatly alarmed, for they feared that they might not receive it any more at all, but their leader quieted them with the words, "To-day ye shall not find any of it, but assuredly to-morrow; in this world ye shall not receive manna on the Sabbath, but assuredly in the future world."

The unbelieving among them did not hearken to the words of God, and went out on the Sabbath to find manna. Here-upon God said to Moses: "Announce these words to Israel: I have led you out of Egypt, have cleft the sea for you, have sent you manna, have caused the well of water to spring up for you, have sent the quails to come up to you, have battled for you against Amalek, and wrought other miracles for you, and still you do not obey My statutes and commandments. You have not even the excuse that I imposed full many commandments upon you, for all that I bade you do at Marah, was to observe the Sabbath, but you have violated it." "If," continues Moses, "you will observe the Sabbath, God will give you three festivals in the months of Nisan, Siwan, and Tishri; and as a reward for the observance of the Sabbath, you will receive six gifts from God: the land of Israel, the future world, the new world, the sovereignty of the dynasty of David, the institution of the priests and the Levites; and, furthermore, as a reward for the observance of the Sabbath, you shall be freed from the three great afflictions: from the sufferings of the times of Gog and Magog, from the travails of the Messianic time, and from the day of the great Judgement."

When Israel heard these exhortations and promises, they determined to observe the Sabbath, and did so. [108] They did not know, to be sure, what they had lost through their violation of the first Sabbath. Had Israel then observed the Sabbath, no nation would ever have been able to exercise any authority over them. [109]

This, moreover, was not the only sin that Israel committed during this time, for some among them also broke the other commandment in regard to manna, that it, not to store it away from day to day. These sinners were none other than the infamous pair, Dathan and Abiram, who did not hearken to the word of God, but saved the manna for the following day. But if they fancied they could conceal their sinful deed, they were mistaken, for great swarms of worms bred from the manna, and these moved in a long train from their tents to the other tents, so that everyone perceived what these two had done. [110]

To serve future generations as a tangible proof of the infinite power of God, the Lord bade Moses lay an earthen vessel full of manna before the Holy Ark, and this command was carried out by Aaron in the second year of the wanderings through the desert. When, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah exhorted his contemporaries to study the Torah, and they answered his exhortations, saying, "How shall we then maintain ourselves?" the prophet brought forth the vessel with manna, and spoke to them, saying: "O generation, see ye the word of the Lord; see what it was that served your fathers as food when they applied themselves to the study of the Torah. You, too, will God support in the same way, if you will but devote yourselves to the study of the Torah. [111]

When the imminent destruction of the Temple was announced to King Josiah, he concealed the Holy Ark, and with it also the vessel with manna, as well as the jug filled with sacred oil, which was used by Moses for anointing the sacred implements, and other sacred objects. In the Messianic time the prophet Elijah will restore all these concealed objects. [112]

Israel received three gifts during their wanderings through the desert: the well, the clouds of glory, and the manna; the first for the merits of Miriam, the second for those of Aaron, and the third for those of Moses. When Miriam died, the well disappeared for a time, but it reappeared as a reward for the merits of Aaron and Moses; when Aaron dies, the clouds of glory disappeared for a time, but reappeared owing to the merits of Moses. But when the last-named died, the well, the clouds of glory, and the manna disappeared forever. [113] Throughout forty years, however, manna served them not only as food, but also as provender for their cattle, for the dew that preceded the fall of manna during the night brought grain for their cattle. [114] Manna also replaced perfume for them, for it shed and excellent fragrance upon those who ate of it. [115]

In spite of all the excellent qualities of manna, they were not satisfied with it, and demanded that Moses and Aaron give them flesh to eat. These replied: "We might put up with you if you murmured only against us, but you murmur against the Eternal. Come forward, that you may hear the judgment of God." At once God appeared to Moses, and said to him: "It is revealed to Me what the congregation of Israel have said, and what they will say, but tell them this: You have demanded two things; you have desired bread, and I gave it to you, because man cannot exist without it; but now, filled to satiety, you demand flesh; this also will I give you, so that you might not say if your wish were denied. ’God cannot grant it,’ but at some future time you shall make atonement for it; I am a judge and shall assign punishment for this."

In the meantime, however, God granted their wish, and toward evening thick swarms of quails came up from the sea, and covered the whole camp, taking their flight quite low, not two ells above the ground, so that they might be easily caught. Contrary to the manna, which fell in the morning, the quails did not come before evenfall; with a radiant countenance God gave them the former, as their desire for bread was justified, but with a darkened mien, under cover of night, He sent quails. [116] Now, because the one food came in the morning and the second in the evening, Moses instituted the custom among his people of taking two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening; and he set the meal with the use of meat for the evening. [117] At the same time he taught them the prayer in which they were to offer thanks after eating manna, which read: "Blessed be Thou, O God our Lord, King of the world, who in Thy bounty, dost provide for all the world; who, in Thy grace, goodwill, and mercy, dost grant food to every creature, for Thy grace is everlasting. Thanks to Thy bounty we have never lacked food, nor ever shall lack it, for Thy great name’s sake. For Thou suppliest and providest for all; Thou are bountiful, and nourishest all Thy creatures which Thou has made. Blessed be Thou, O God, that dost provide for all." [118]


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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "The Gathering of the Manna," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022,

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "The Gathering of the Manna." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'The Gathering of the Manna' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from