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In Bamidbar 11:5 it says:

זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נֹאכַ֥ל בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם חִנָּ֑ם אֵ֣ת הַקִּשֻּׁאִ֗ים וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲבַטִּחִ֔ים וְאֶת־הֶחָצִ֥יר וְאֶת־הַבְּצָלִ֖ים וְאֶת־הַשּׁוּמִֽים׃

We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.

Why does it use the word נֹאכַ֥ל which is typically future tense when we are clearly talking about the past?

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  • Notably, נאכל could also have been punctuated as Ne'ekhal which is past tense.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 22:20
  • Possibly related to the Talmud Yoma floating on a few questions about the new restrictions on arayos: we would have been able to "eat" from these now forbidden relationships had we stayed in Egypt. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 22:50
  • @IsaacKotlicky Could you explain?
    – Eliyahu
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:57
  • @Eliyahu you linked to Sefaria, it's in the commentary for that possuk. Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:45
  • 1
    I think it means "which we would eat" as opposed to "which we ate"
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 16:49

2 Answers 2

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Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in his אזנים לתורה suggests that they were hinting that they wished to return to Egypt.

אשר נאכל במצרים. אשר אכלנו לא אמרו, אלא "אשר נאכל" - בזה טמון רמז דק: "אשר נאכל" אם נשוב מצרימה. ‏

(The possibility of interpreting נאכל as future tense seems to be mostly ignored by the earlier commentators, and רב סעדיה גאון seems to specifically reject it in his translation in the תורת חיים edition, where he explains the phrase אשר נאכל as "שהיינו אוכלים.")

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R. Pinhas Horowitz explains (Panim Yafot Exodus 11:4) that in Egypt they were confident that they would have food in the future.

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