What does the Rambam or Gersonides, who were both rationalists, have to say on the miracle of manna falling from heaven? Did they believe such an event took place?


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Both Maimonides and Gersonides believed that manna fell from heaven.

Maimonides discusses the verse which describes the manna as raining down from the doors of heaven and asserts that the "doors of heaven" part is figurative, implying that the "raining down" part is literal:

Guide for the Perplexed 2:47

The same is the case with the following passage--"He opened the doors of heaven, he rained upon them manna to eat" (Ps. lxxviii. 23, 24). No person assumes that there is a door or gate in heaven, but every one understands that this is a simile and a figurative expression. (Friedlander translation)

Elsewhere he states that this was the greatest of the miracles God performed in the wilderness because it was not a one-time temporary miracle, but an ongoing miracle for forty years.

Guide for the Perplexed 3:50

Now the greatest of the miracles described in the Law is the stay of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, with a daily supply of manna. This wilderness, as described in Scripture, consisted of places "wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water" (Deut. viii. 115); places very remote from cultivated land, and naturally not adapted for the habitation of man, "It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates, neither is there any water to drink" (Num. xx. 5); "A land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt" (Jer. ii. 6). [In reference to the stay of the Israelites in the wilderness], Scripture relates, "Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink" (Deut. xix. 5). All these miracles were wonderful, public, and witnessed by the people. But God knew that in future people might doubt the correctness of the account of these miracles. in the same manner as they doubt the accuracy of other narratives; they might think that the Israelites stayed in the wilderness in a place not far from inhabited land, where it was possible for man to live [in the ordinary way]; that it was like those deserts in which Arabs live at present; or that they dwelt in such places in which they could plow, sow, and reap, or live on some vegetable that was growing there; or that manna came always down in those places as an ordinary natural product; or that there were wells of water in those places. In order to remove all these doubts and to firmly establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles, Scripture enumerates all the stations, so that coming generations may see them, and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled human beings to live in those places forty years. (Friedlander translation)

Gersonides actually has a lengthy discussion about whether the miracle of the manna was actually possible (in accordance with his view of miracles, which I briefly discussed here) but ultimately concludes that it was possible (and did occur):

Commentary to Exodus 16:4

ראוי שתדע שזה המופת היה נפלא מאד כי לא יתכן שיתהוה על דרך הטבע דבר מזה בעת מהעתים כי לא יתהוה מאלו האידים העולים באויר דבר יתכן שיהיה מזון וזה מבואר במעט עיון למי שעיין בטבעיות והנה על כל פנים יתכן שיהיה מעירוב היסודות והמזגם מה שיהיה טבעו כטבע זה המן אשר ירד להם מן השמים שאם לא היה הענין כן יהיה מציאות המן דבר נמנע מצד עצמותו ומה שזה דרכו לא יתחדש על דרך מופת כמו שזכרנו במה שקדם והנה היה התהוות המן בזולת סיבותיו באופן התהוות מהמטה נחש רוצה לומר שאין מציאות המן דבר נמנע מצד עצמותו כמו שאין מציאות הנחש נמנע מצד עצמותו ואמנם היה נמנע מדרך הטבע שיהיה המן מאלו האידים או מהאויר ושיהיה נחש מהמטה

Like Maimonides, he also points out elsewhere the especially miraculous aspect of the miracle occurring for forty years, noting that this is one of the ways in which Moses is different from other prophets:

Commentary to Deuteronomy 34:10-11

והשלישי הוא שלא התמידו אותותיהם ומופתיהם לעיני כל ישראל כמו העניין במשה שהתמיד ירידת המן מ' שנה ועניין עמוד הענן ועמוד האש ודבור השם יתעלה עמו שהיה תמיד בעמוד ענן לעיני כל ישראל

The supremacy of the miracle of the manna was actually pointed out even earlier by R. Saadia Gaon:

Emunot V'Deiot 1:6

Personally, however, I consider the case of the miracle of the manna as the most amazing of all miracles, because a phenomenon of an enduring nature excites greater wonderment than one of a passing character.

(Rosenblatt translation p. 29)

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