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Why is it that when the Israelites complain of not having sufficient food in Exodus 16:3 G-d is completely fine with fulfilling their desires.

3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

In response G-d is totally willing to give them quail and manna in this verse.

Verse 13 states.

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

Now this is contrasted with Numbers 11 where G-d promises quail for an entire month, but once the rebellious Israelites receive this quail they are all killed.

Numbers 11:33

33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.

What exactly was the difference between these two events? Why does G-d initially promise a month supply of quail, but then smites them before they can even consume it?

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Rav Hirsch explains on Beshalach 16:4 that He is not providing the food as a result of the dissatisfaction, but to teach them the lesson that He has already prepared the food in order to teach them the lessons that they must learn.

When I led the people into the desert I had decided to provide them with food in this way.

Hashem is now teaching them that they must be ready to accept that Hashem will provide each day the necessities of that day. 16:5 shows that everyone will be granted the precise amount decreed for him no matter how hard he works and that the sixth day will be double so that they will not need to work on the Shabbat.

Rav Hirsch points out in 16:6 that the quail is due to the complaints, but here too it is a lesson that Hashem hears and understands everything that is going on and pays attention to every word.

The Bnai Yisrael were at this time like little children who do not understand that they can trust that they will be provided for. Thus they cried as soon as they started to feel hungry and did not yet understand how they were to be supported.

The complainers starting in 11:1, the people did not pick up on the lesson that they should have learned. They started to complain and Hashem caused a fire to break out at the edge of the camp. They now cried in fear and Moshe prayed and the fire died down. However, far from learning their lesson, they actually pushed themselves to be worse. As Rav hirsch translates 11:4

But the rabble that they had taken in among them goaded themselves on to desires and then the Children of Israel also again began to weep and they said: Who shall give us meat to eat?

That had been getting the man which was miraculous sustenance and provided everything they needed. Hashem said the He would provide the quail for a month until they were sick of it. This would show that they are going to far in their complaints. As it says in 11:20

But even for a full month until it comes out your nose and nauseates you. Because you have despised the Lord Who is among you, and you cried before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?"

However, even this was not enough for them. As Rav Hirsch said on 11:32

Both greed and mistrust in the assurance that Moses had brought them are shown in this rush to gather the quails.

As a result, the lesson that would have taken a full month, fell upon them at once.

Rashi had said on 11:20

But even for a full month: This [concerned] the [comparatively] virtuous ones, who languish on their beds and later their soul departs. But concerning the wicked ones it says, “the meat was still between their teeth [… when the anger of the Lord flared…]” (verse 33). This is how it is taught in the Sifrei (Beha’alothecha 1:42:20), but in the Mechilta (Beshallach, Vayassa 3:13) the opposite is taught: the wicked ate and suffered [as a result] for thirty days, whereas [concerning] the virtuous-“the meat was still between their teeth” [thus, they did not suffer prolonged agony].

  • This doesn't explain the incident in Exodus, where it is implied that the Israelites ate manna during the day and quail at night throughout their time in the wilderness. The – Daniel Kagan Sep 25 '18 at 16:06
  • Specifically, 16:12 reads "By evening you shall eat flesh, and by morning you shall eat your fill of bread, and you shall know that I, Hashem, are your G-d." – Daniel Kagan Sep 25 '18 at 16:13
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The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:24, from Tanchuma Beha'alosecha) answers this question in the process of answering a different one:

כְּשֶׁחָזְרוּ וּבָכוּ וּבִקְּשׁוּ בָּשָׂר, אִם נֹאמַר בְּשַׂר חַיָּה, כָּל מַה שֶּׁבִּקְּשׁוּ נַעֲשָׂה לָהֶם, הַמָּן לְתוֹךְ פִּיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קו, טו): וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם שֶׁאֱלָתָם (תהלים עח, כט): וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִא לָהֶם, אִם נֹאמַר שֶׁלֹא הָיָה לָהֶם שׁוֹר וּבְהֵמָה, וַהֲלוֹא כְּבָר נֶאֱמַר: וְגַם עֵרֶב רַב עָלָה אִתָּם וְצֹאן וּבָקָר, אִם נֹאמַר אֲכָלוּם בַּמִּדְבָּר, וַהֲלוֹא כְתִיב (במדבר לכ, א): וּמִקְנֶה רַב הָיָה לִבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן.

מִכָּאן אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן לֹא נִתְאַוּוּ בָּשָׂר, אֶלָּא שְׁאֵר בָּשָׂר, שֶׁכֵּן הוּא אוֹמֵר (תהלים עח, כז): וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם כֶּעָפָר שְׁאֵר, וְאֵין שְׁאֵר אֶלָּא עֲרָיוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יח, ו): אִישׁ אִישׁ אֶל כָּל שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ, הֱוֵי שֶׁכָּךְ בִּקְּשׁוּ, לְהַתִּיר לָהֶם אֶת הָעֲרָיוֹת, וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר (במדבר יא, י): וַיִּשְׁמַע משֶׁה אֶת הָעָם בֹּכֶה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָיו, כְּשֶׁבִּקְּשׁוּ כָּךְ, לְכָךְ (במדבר יא, י): וַיִּחַר אַף ה' מְאֹד וּבְעֵינֵי משֶׁה רָע

When they wept once more and requested meat: If they requested the meat of a wild animal, within their mouths the manna became whatever they desired, as it says (Tehillim 106:15; 78:29), "And He gave them their request," "for He brought them their craving." And if we say they had no oxen or domesticated animals, is it not already stated (Shemos 12:38), "and a mixed multitude also went up with them, and flock and cattle"? And if we will say that they had already eaten them in the desert, is it not written (Bamidbar 32:1), "the children of Reuven had abundant livestock"?

From here R' Shimon said: they did not crave meat, but rather close relatives, as it says (Tehillim 78:27), "And He rained down upon them she'eir like dust," and she'eir only means illicit relations, as it says (Vayikra 18:6), "and man [shall not approach] his close relative (she'eir besaro)." It must be that they wanted to permit for themselves illicit relations [which, we see above, are also called basar]. And so does it say (in our passage, v. 10), "Moshe heard the people weeping by their families" [i.e. that they could not have relations with their families - Matnos Kehunah, from Yoma 75a], and therefore [that verse continues], "The wrath of HaShem flared greatly, and it was bad in the eyes of Moshe."

In conclusion: the story in Beha'alosecha had nothing at all to do with them wanting meat, but that they wanted to have illicit relations with close relatives. It is for this reason that they were punished. It was a completely different story than the one in Beshalach, where they made a perfectly reasonable request asking HaShem to give them food. Why He killed them through quail, specifically, is an excellent question that may be addressed separately.

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