According to the Midrash, the Benei Yisrael in Bamidbar 11 wished to have illicit relations with close relatives. In response, HaShem punished them with death via eating quail.

Why was this an appropriate punishment for this particular sin? In general, HaShem punishes measure for measure1. What was the measure for measure in this case?

Note that I am asking specifically according to the Midrash's understanding of this incident. For the purposes of this question, I do not care how anyone else understands what the sin was.

1Shabbos 105b derives this principle from Yeshaya 27:8, and Sanhedrin 90a derives this from Malachim Beis 7:1,2,20

  • The biblical text is EXTREMELY explicit that we're referring to literal consumption of meat. What the Midrash seems to state is that there was a subtext to the desire for meat - it was a replacement for an otherwise forbidden desire. If that's the case, then they seem be getting punished for the "intended sin" through their proxy. This would fit with the opinion that the intent to sin is jointly liable with the sin itself. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 21:06
  • @mevaqesh Updated with sources
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 21:10
  • @IsaacKotlicky Again, the Midrash says that the meat ("basar") does not refer to food but to illicit relations ("she'eir besaro"). They didn't want food. The Midrash notes the obvious problem with that approach - they had Man and actual food. Why would they be asking for food? It doesn't explain the complaint of "we remember the leeks and cucumbers," etc., but if you recall, the man couldn't taste like those because they're harmful to - pregnant women. It's very easy to see that as a metaphor for eishes ish.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 21:13
  • I'm not contradicting you. The Midrash says that their desire was for GA, but since they couldn't ask for that they asked for meat instead. As a permitted "carnal" pleasure. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 21:39
  • @IsaacKotlicky I don't know, the Midrash seems pretty explicit that they were using a euphemism, as if they wanted meat they had meat.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 22:45

1 Answer 1


The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 11:4) understood that meat "warms the body" and increases lust/desire, especially of a sexual nature:

אזי כך תפרש הפסוקים כי המה שאלו בשר המחמם ומרבה התאוה

See also Kli Yakar to 11:1. The Meshech Chochma (11:4, 11:18) also explains similarly.

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