The Childhood is Over

Generations of Russian kids have been eating the manna. This is no joke. Semolina, of the most common grains for the kids’ meals in Russia, is called манка. The word came into Russian from the Ancient Greek  μάννα, which is, of course, the Torah manna. Another theory connect this Russian word with the plant Glyceria fluitans, which is called манник in Russian. Its grains can be harvested and eaten as a gruel. Of course, its name is also connected with manna.

In Exodus 16, when children of Israel complain about hunger, God promises “to rain bread from heaven”, the manna is described as a “fine, frost-like thing”. Russian манка, made from wheat, is white and finely-ground. In Numbers 11, during the bitterly nostalgic complain about the variety of foods available for Jews in Egyptian slavery, the manna is described again. It is as small as coriander seeds and its appearance resembles bdellium. The exact meaning of this word has baffled many of the Torah commentators. Some think it is the semi-transparent resin from the relative of the myrrh tree, the false myrrh. The fruit of this tree is white, small, and round. Rashi and Saadiah Gaon follow the interpretation of Septuagint, which thinks that bdellium is some kind of a precious stone, for example, a pearl, also white, small, and round.

So, white, small, round, precious, sweet, like wafers made with honey (as in Exodus), nutritious, like cakes baked with oil (as in Numbers). What more to desire?

However, the children of Israel, complaining about the lack of Egyptian products, remember fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onion, and garlic. They speak about salty, refreshing, sweet, spicy tastes. In our current parashah, we go back to a variety of tastes with an enumeration of wheat and barley, pomegranates, figs and vines, olives and honey, the seven species of the Land of Israel. The time of helpless childhood is over, the time of one taste, although appealing, has gone. The children of Israel have finally grown up enough to be able to handle the diversity of life.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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