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Why did the Israelites ask for meat when they had cattle?

Why did the Israelites ask for meat when they had cattle?


The classic commentators ask the same question. Here are some of their answers:

Rabbi Chayim Atar1 tells us that in order to understand this, we must look carefully at their complaint:

"…when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!"2

The complaint was that they missed sitting by their pots and eating bread while the meat was cooking.

Killing a large animal affords a person an abundance of food at one time. After that, since they didn't port refrigerators around in the wilderness, it had to be salted and eaten cold. The Israelites wanted smaller animals so they could enjoy fresh meat on demand.

In addition, they missed eating bread, something which they had no access to in the barren desert.

In the complaint recorded in the Torah we can see both demands: A. they wanted smaller animals which would afford them fresh meals which they would eat right off the fire and B. they wanted bread to eat while the meat was cooking.

Alternatively, the Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra3 suggests that they had already eaten a large portion of their cattle. A this point, if they would all go to purchase more meat at once, the price would skyrocket beyond their means.

Please let me know if this helps,

Rabbi Menachem Posner


Or Hachayim 16:3


Ibn Ezra 16:3

All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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pnina hobart, tasmania August 12, 2008

why did they ask for meat/the copper snake thank you for your interest and suggested reading. I will need to think more about what it is that i can't understand about the answer. Our 'fly-in' rabbi from Melbourne Chabad had also explained to me that putting the copper snake on a raised pole would cause people to look Heavenward for healing. I still find explanation difficult [foreign]. Couldn't they have been told "Turn back to Hashem and pray to be healed and you shall be healed" ?

Re: "They asked for meat ..." I am still looking through for understanding of this. The closest I have come is an analogy of 'meat' to desire for forbidden relationships. The Torah often uses euphemisms. Reply

Menachem Posner for August 11, 2008

To Pnina See Why did G-d choose a serpent to heal the Israelites? for a very enlightening commentary on the serpent episode. Reply

pnina hobart, tasmania August 10, 2008

why did they ask for meat when they had cattle this is the most difficult part of the Torah for me to understand.
i have been grappling with this question (privately for many years) and asking rabbis (more recently), I am still unable to understand to my satisfaction. This [and the also the copper snake] remain enigmatic. Reply

Rosina August 4, 2008

Why if they had cattle? The answer does not truly answer the question, since the Israelites where in the thousands could not they have shared the larger animals with each others so they would not have any left to need refrigeration, which obviously they did not have; but they would not need to salt it for preservation. They would have shared among each other. Reply

Itche August 3, 2008

Rashi's explanation They were just looking to complain. Reply

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