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In Parshas Behalosecha (Bamidbar 11:4), Bnei Yisrael cry for meat in the wilderness.

Bnei Yisrael had plenty of animals of their own. Were they permitted to eat this meat? Additionally, could they have satisfied their craving for meat by having the manna taste like meat?

  • Bracha, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your intriguing question here! I hope you'll look around and find other information of interest, perhaps starting with Q&A on this week's parsha. – Isaac Moses Jun 16 '17 at 13:26
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Bracha! Thanks for sharing the question. – mevaqesh Jun 16 '17 at 14:07
  • Consider learning more about the site by reading this useful short Beginners' Guide. As noted there, posts (particularly answers, but even questions) are best when sourced. In this case, for example, telling us how you know that they had meat and that the manna could taste like whatever you wanted, would strengthen the question. | Remember that not everyone on the site shares the same level of background. | Hope you choose to stick around the site and keep learning and contributing! – mevaqesh Jun 16 '17 at 14:10
  • I wondered this and was told that "meat" wasn't literally meat but other pleasures of the flesh. – rosends Jun 16 '17 at 18:28
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The Israelite's were definitely able to eat their animals (if the blood was sprinkled on the altar the meat was theirs like any shelamim. see chulin 16b). According to the Ramban (11:4) they didn't have enough livestock to provide meat for everyone every day, so only the leaders got a portion while the rest starved, that is why they complained.

כי לא היה לכל העם בשר לאכול בכל יום, אע"פ שאכלו ממנו פעמים רבות והיה למקצתם מקנה ואכלו ממנו הגדולים, כמנהג המחנות ומקומות היוקר

However, Rashi is of the opinion that they had more than enough meat, they were just looking for a pretext. As for your second question i will leave it for someone else to answer.

  • See the end of my answer below regarding OP's 2nd question. – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 14:04
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The short answer to your question is Yes. That is why they were punished for the improper actions and complaints.

Beha'aloscha 11:1 starts out that

The people were looking to complain, and it was evil in the ears of the Lord. The Lord heard and His anger flared, and a fire from the Lord burned among them, consuming the extremes of the camp.

That is that the people were looking for an excuse to complain about things and decided to cause trouble.

Rav Hirsch translates כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים as were as if in mourning over themselves in order to feel as if they were cut off from the rest of the world.

After they were punished for totally baseless complaining, the eirev rav came up with an excuse of lack of meat

Beha'aloscha 11:4

וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר:

This is translated by Rav Hirsch as

But the rabble that they had taken in amongst 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?"

RASHI

Who will feed us meat?: Did they not have meat? Does it not say, “Also a great mixed multitude went up with them, and flocks and cattle” (Exod. 12:38)? You might argue that they had already eaten them. But when they were about to enter the Land, is it not written that, “the children of Reuben had much cattle” (Num. 32:1)? The answer is that they were seeking a pretext. — [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:42:4]

That is to say, they did not lack anything in themselves but they pretended to have a lack because they did not want to actually have to work for what they received or even have to go out and collect the manna. Additionally they did not want to have to imagine what taste the manna should have, but as said in verse 5:

We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.

Rashi

which we ate in Egypt free of charge: If you say that the Egyptians gave them fish free of charge, does it not already say, “Straw shall not be given to you” (Exod. 5:18)? Now if straw was not given free of charge, was fish given to them free of charge? So what does “free of charge” mean? Free from [the burden of] precepts. — [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:42:5]

One can also say that they did not want to have to kill and eat their own cattle, but to maintain the flocks and riches that they had brought from Egypt. They also did not want to have to prepare the manna that they had gathered.

Note that it says in Beha'aloscha 11:13

Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying on me, saying, 'Give us meat to eat.

They do not want to use their own cattle, nor do they want to hunt deer or catch fish or trap birds. They want me to provide it for them miraculously, over and above the miracles that Hashem has provided for them.

Aws Rav Hirsch says.

מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר They know quite well that they are demanding something from me which is quite beyond my power to give them. And as, having the completely sufficing and satisfying food in the manna, what they are asking for is something dispensable and superfluous. Their demand is nothing but plaguing tormenting of the man in whom they see the leader of their fate. And had he been the right man he would have long ago won their love and respect which would never have allowed such vexatious desires to arise.

Just because the demand was for something quite dispensable and superfluous neither Moses nor the people could expect that Hashem would grant it in some miraculous manner.

Rav Hirsch continues in Beha'aloscha 11:22, as a result of being told to appoint the 70 elders:

So that Moses must have assumed that this provision was expected to lie within the sphere of ordinary duties for him and the elders to attend to from the natural sources at their disposition

Hashem then says that He could provide sufficient meat from the natural conditions of the world, and that He knows that it is really an excuse which is why they will be punished.

Be careful what you ask for - you may actually be given it as a punishment.

  • Interesting answer +1. Some curiosities - You said, "catch fish or trap birds" - Where would they find fish in the desert? As for trapping birds, didn't they need to do that every night with the quail flying over them? – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 15:26
  • That was the point. They did not want to do any of that. They wanted whatever they happened to want without having to actually do anything. Because quail were around to be trapped or manna to be gathered or their own cattle and flocks in the camp to be slaughtered (as shelamim in the mishkan), they wanted something else. Also a better translation of midbar is wilderness. It is not like the Sahara dessert and they could have caught fish in the springs of the oases or the rivers that the man ran into after it melted. – sabbahillel Jun 16 '17 at 15:31
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Very good question. This was the "puzzle" of many commentators on Moses's question to G-d in Bemidbar 11:22 when he asks G-d, essentially, "How will you feed 600,00 people with meat and fish for a month?" The commentators are puzzled as to why Moses would wonder about G-d's abilities?

Orach Chaim commentary (beginning near the bottom right column on the page) explains that the question wasn't a "wonder". He was trying to convince G-d that His solution would not help. Exactly as you said in your question - they had plenty of meat available, and the man certainly sufficed for the rest. But, the people were spoiled and wanted and endless supply of different kinds of meat and different kinds of fish. And each person has different tastes and preferences. Some want deer, some want rams, some want beef, some want birds, and some want fish. Yet, G-d said that that he would satisfy them with eating only one type of meat for a month.

(Seforno commentary explains this in simpler terms. Moses was saying that these people are not complaining about the lack of food. They are finding a pretext to complain about something, namely that they want a LOT of food and they want more and more of it. And, even if G-d provided enough, they would still complain, because they would want even more.)

Regarding your 2nd question "having the manna taste like meat", see Bemidbar 11:6 where they specifically complain that the man isn't doing the job for them.

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The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:24, from Tanchuma Beha'alosecha) directly addresses this question:

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.

  • I understand that not all Midrashim need to be taken literally. But, I really don't understand how Rav Shimon makes this translation, as there is no mention of the term שְׁאֵר when they complained about eating meat. – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 18:30
  • But there is a mention of Basar, which we see in the Acharei Mos verse refers to illicit relations. "It must be that they wanted to permit for themselves illicit relations [which, we see above, are also called basar]." And there's a mention of She'eir mentioned in the Tehillim verse regarding this incident. – DonielF Jun 16 '17 at 18:31
  • Gezeirah shavah? – DonielF Jun 16 '17 at 18:33
  • OK. I see that Rash"i, among others translates שְׁאֵר as "meat". I have to ponder this one. – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 18:44

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