In Bamidbar 21:5, the Jews complained about the mon. Rashi explains that this was because it was entirely absorbed into their bodies, and they had no need to relieve themselves after eating it, so they were afraid it would kill them.

But this was after 39.5 years eating the mon. Most of the nation had spent their entire lives eating it. How could they claim it would kill them, if they had survived for decades on it?

  • 1
    Did not most of the previous generation die in the Midbar over those 40 years? Jun 25, 2014 at 14:27
  • 1
    @GershonGold Anyone alive at the time would have been consuming mon for 39 years or their entire lives, whichever is shorter. Either duration should have been sufficient to demonstrate its non-lethality to them.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:18
  • Maybe they were saying that it's just a matter of time before regular consumption would bring about death. Smoking is claimed to kill people, even though few if any will drop down dead after smoking daily for 40 days, months or even years.
    – Tamir Evan
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:28
  • @TamirEvan Side point: About half of smokers die of smoking-realted disease. "... few pastimes, habits or addictions are deadlier than smoking. Only Russian roulette and scorpion juggling come to mind."
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:52
  • @IsaacMoses I didn't realize I was implying an intention, or even an inclination, to smoke. I was only trying to be a little careful in my wording, to avoid a side argument over the dangers of smoking. What an exercise in futility!
    – Tamir Evan
    Jun 25, 2014 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


I heard this from the grandfather of a friend of mine, so I can't really provide a good source, but it's an awesome explanation.The Netziv in Emek Hanetziv on the Sifri Piska 30 Parshas BaHaloscha explains this way as well.

The Jews were living in the desert, where they lived a miraculous existence. When they came into Israel, life would revert to a less miraculous existence - thus they had to conquer the land with wars and such. Some commentaries explain this was the motivation of the spies to support not entering the land.

So, while they are in the desert, the mon stayed inside them and did not need to be relieved. However, this was part of the miracle. Upon entering Eretz Yisrael, they assumed, the miracle would end, the mon inside of them would suddenly all need to be relieved, and they would literally explode. There fears were only now upon the cusp of leaving their miraculous existence.

  • 1
    +1, but how fat would they have to be to have that much mon in them ;-)
    – Yishai
    Jun 25, 2014 at 20:36
  • @yez this was the explanation of the Netziv on his biur on the Sifri
    – sam
    Jun 27, 2014 at 2:47
  • @sam baruch shekiven my friend's grandfather. Jun 27, 2014 at 2:51
  • he said it as an original pshat?
    – sam
    Jun 27, 2014 at 2:52
  • @sam yessir. With another piece of textual support that I can't remember. Jun 27, 2014 at 2:53

Devarim 8:3 explains the true purpose of the mohn:

"He afflicted you and starved you and fed you the mohn that you did not know and that your fathers did not know. To teach you that not on bread alone does man live but on all that God says does man live".

I'm summarizing two explanations.

One from Ramba"n that says on "You did not know" meaning that you did not know that you could live (on it) for so many days.

Ohr Hachaim focuses more on what the mohn did to the digestive system. I have trouble understanding his full explanation - it is lengthy. But the important part I could decipher is that the mohn was considered the food the angels ate (I assume the source of this is Midrash). He points out that there are foods that are healthy for both the healthy and sick and foods that are OK for only the healthy and not the sick. Since the beginning of this verse states that God starved us first and then fed us the mohn, the people assumed that they were sick and since the mohn was hard to digest, it would be harmful to them.

I hope that I have "translated" at least somewhat correctly what the Ohr Hachaim stated, there.

  • How does this account for why they only complained after so long? (Especially the Ohr Hachaim explanation) Jun 25, 2014 at 20:46
  • @YEZ My answer clarifies what they were complaining about, not the fact they waited so long to complain. I am surmising a scientific idea based on my answer. Previously, they had water, and, perhaps water aided in the digestion, so maybe they didn't think there was harm or eventually the water would aid digestion of the mohn. Now that Miriam died and the well was gone (See Rashi among other explanations), the people were more scared now than before?
    – DanF
    Jun 26, 2014 at 19:58
  • You could include that as part of your answer. Right now, your answer as is does not address the main point of the question. Jun 26, 2014 at 21:38
  • @YEZ - I'm aware of that. I can't locate any sources that completely address your excellent question. Related to your question is getting a better sense of which group of people were the ones who complained. We know that all males who were at least 20 years old at the time of the spy sin were destined to die over 40 years. As this scene was asked at about the 40th year, we can assume that the oldest were 59. I don't think it's correct to assume that only the current "teenagers" asked this question.
    – DanF
    Jun 27, 2014 at 13:12

Rabbi Sorotzkin points out that for most of the forty years, they were able to deal with the people among whom they passed and buy provisions from them. Thus, they supplemented the mon with "natural food" which did cause "refuse". We see this from the command to take a digging tool with them to make a latrine. As they approached Canaan, the merchants began bringing food from Canaan. At this point the curse of "not seeing the good of the land" took effect. Had those lesft of the ones who were being punished for the sin of the meraglim even smelled the food, they would have died at once. In order to preserve the lives of those approaching 60 (the last of that generation), the Bnei Yisrael cut off all contact with the merchant caravans that were coming to trade with them and subsisted on only the man. This gave rise to the complaints .

They are called "complainers" because they were looking for an excuse to complain.

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