“An Inhabited Land” Parashat Beshalach 5775

One of the many miracles that occur in Parashat Beshalach is the miracle of the manna, the magical food that Am Yisrael ate for forty years in the desert. The Torah concludes its discussion of the manna with some of the most problematic verses in the entire Torah [Shemot 16:32-34]: “This is the thing that Hashem commanded: Let one omer[1] of [manna] be preserved for your generations, in order that they see should the bread that I fed you in the desert when I took you out of the land of Egypt. Moshe said to Aharon ‘Take one jug and put there an omer of manna and place it before Hashem to be preserved for your generations.’ As Hashem commanded Moshe, Aharon deposited it before the testimony to be preserved.”

Precisely where was Aharon commanded to put the jug of manna? Hashem’s original commandment doesn’t specify where it should be placed. When Moshe transmits the commandment to Aharon, he tells him to place the jug “before Hashem”. And when Aharon implements Moshe’s charge, he places the jug “before the testimony”. Many of the medieval commentators, including Rashi and the Ibn Ezra, explain that the jug of manna was put in the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed, the Talmud in Tractate Yoma [52b] states that the jug of manna was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant along with the first (smashed) and second luchot and Aharon’s staff[2]. And this is a huge problem, primarily because the Ark of the Covenant had not yet been built. To be precise: the manna began to fall a month after the exodus, while the Mishkan and all of its utensils, including the Ark, were not built for nearly another year[3]. How could Aharon place a real jug of real manna in an Ark that did not yet exist?

The commentators are fully aware of this chronological anomaly and both Rashi and the Ibn Ezra offer the same explanation: these three verses are written out of place. These verses should actually be located after the Mishkan was built. In other words, even though Aharon waited for the Mishkan to be built and only then placed the jug of manna in the Ark of the Covenant, the Torah records the event before it actually occurred. I can guarantee that Rashi’s quill was shaking when he wrote down this explanation. There is a general disagreement between the commentators if the Torah is chronologically organized or if it is organized according to some other criterion[4]. After all, the Torah is not a history book. It is a Book of Law, and here is no reason that it should be bound by the arrow of time. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Torah is written as a series of episodes that maintain a sense of chronological order, such that we must tread very carefully whenever we want to stray from this hypothesis.

Well, if these three verses are problematic, the very next verse [Shemot 16:35] can only be called hyper-problematic: “The children of Israel ate the manna for forty years until they came to an inhabited land. They ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan”. It seems obvious that this verse, like the three that precede it, was inserted at a later time. Otherwise, how could the Torah record that Am Yisrael ate the manna for forty years? They had only been in the desert for thirty days! But here is the real problem: the only reason that Am Yisrael spent forty years wandering in the desert is because of the sin of the spies: Twelve spies spend forty days reconnoitring the Land of Israel in preparation for its capture. They return to Moshe with an evil report, Am Yisrael believe them and as a result they are sentenced to spend the next forty years in the desert, one year for each day in the desert for each day the spies spent in Israel. At the time the manna was given, long before the sin of the spies, Am Yisrael were meant to receive the Torah at Sinai, and after leaving Sinai it was a short eleven-day journey to Israel[5]. Now let’s assume that the verses appear out of place and that the manna was placed in the Ark only after the Mishkan was built. But when the Mishkan was built and consecrated, Am Yisrael were still supposed to be in the desert for only a year or so. It must mean that this verse really belongs after the sin of the spies!

Assuming that this hypothesis is correct, it can give us some clear insight not only into the sin of the spies, but to a strange word in the last “misplaced” verse in Parashat Beshalach. Before Moshe sends the spies on their mission, he gives them Rules of Engagement [Bemidbar 13:18-19]: “You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak? Are there few or many?  And what of the land that they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities that they inhabit – are they in camps or in fortresses?” When the spies return, they answer Moshe in kind [Bemidbar 13:28-29]: “Nevertheless, the people who inhabit the land are mighty and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw the offspring of the giants. The Amalekites inhabit the south land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites inhabit the mountainous region. The Canaanites inhabit the coast and alongside the Jordan.” It is clear that the word “inhabit” is a Key Word, and in order to understand the episode we must first understand the meaning of the word “inhabit”.

I suggest that we can best understand what “inhabit” means if we look at the response of Joshua and Calev to their ten erstwhile compatriots [Bemidbar 13:30]: “We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it”. Let’s contrast “inhabiting” with “going up”. Something that is “inhabited” is fixed and sedentary. The inhabitant of a town has his home in that town. He works in town and he is part of the local community. A person who is staying for two nights at a local hotel cannot be called an inhabitant. The spies saw the Land of Israel as being full of “inhabitants”, people who had lived there all of their lives – people who had no intention of leaving their homes, at least not without a fight. Joshua and Calev countered that while the locals might consider themselves “fixed”, Am Yisrael were “upwardly mobile”. And being mobile, Am Yisrael had the capability to overcome the inertia of the local inhabitants and to take possession of the land promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

But wait a minute: weren’t the spies using the same term that Moshe used? Sort of. When Moshe used the term “inhabitant”, he did not intend the same negative meaning as the spies. Living in Israel was qualitatively different than living in Egypt. Am Yisrael never planned to settle in Egypt. They came on a Visitor’s Permit. The only land that they could ever “settle” was the Land of Israel. It was their final destination. It was their destiny. Moshe repeatedly uses the word “inhabit” to emphasize to Am Yisrael that they are coming to the Land of Israel to settle there forever. These are the cities in which you will live. These are the fields that you will work. And these are the nations over which you will rule. The spies misunderstand Moshe’s message with tragic results.

This explanation sheds light on the verse in Parashat Beshalach that refers to the Land of Israel as “eretz noshavet” – “an inhabited land”. Assuming that this verse belongs after the sin of the spies, the term makes perfect sense. The Land of Israel is called an “inhabited land” only after Am Yisrael spend forty years of wandering in the desert. The Land of Israel is only called an “inhabited land” when it is inhabited by Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzipora Hadara and Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] An omer is a measure of volume.

[2] This was the staff that turned into an almond branch during Korach’s revolt.

[3] Similarly, Aharon did not receive the position of the High Priest until the same time.

[4] This concept is referred to as “ein mukdam u’me’uchar ba’Torah”.

[5] See Devarim [1:2].

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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