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What Does “Manna” Mean?

What Does “Manna” Mean?

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Question:

We read in Exodus 16:15 that the heavenly bread fell, and “when the children of Israel saw [it], they said to one another, ‘It is manna,’ because they did not know what it was.” But what does “manna” mean?

Response:

Good question. In the original Hebrew the word is מן, more accurately transliterated as mon. So what does mon mean? There are a number of schools of thought.

Some say that mon means a portion of food.1 They did not know what it was, but they knew that it was a portion of ready-to-eat food, so they called it just that.

Others explain that mon is Egyptian for “what.”2 Over the 200-plus years that they had lived in Egypt, a fair amount of Egyptian had crept into their lexicon. Thus, when they said, “It is manna,” what they were actually saying was, “What is it?” Eventually, that became the name of the mystery food that they had found.

A third interpretation is that the root word of mon means status or importance.3 In other words, they saw the stuff fall from heaven, did not know what it was, but were absolutely sure that it was something special.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Among others, this is the view of Rashi, who sees this as similar to Daniel 1:5, וימן להם המלך.

2.

This is the opinion of Rashbam and others.

3.

This view is cited by Haketav Vehakabbalah, who sees an example of this root word in Proverbs 29:21, ואחריתו יהיה מנון.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Discussion (6)
December 8, 2014
enlightenment!
My kids and I were discussing the origin of manna, and were delighted to find the three word origins as well as their significance as related to this miraculous provision of sustenance. Thank You
Rachel
VALE
February 1, 2012
finally
Thanks for the answer. I always thought that manna from heaven was bread, as in the contents in the illustrated bread basket. i always wondered, just bread ? That's it ? But now i see that it was foodstuffs for a meal.

Thanks Yitchak for bringing up the point about the Aramaic spoken language. Manna = Mon-hu is a nice bit of knowledge. Then you add on sayings like the Kaddish Aramaic prayer, for one, that has made it down through the centuries.

Toda Rabbah Rabbi !
Anonymous
August 13, 2011
sustinance....charity
thanks for the definition
Anonymous
escondido, ca
February 7, 2011
RE: Aramaic
That is correct. There are indeed many who explain that "mom hu" is Aramaic. For the sake of brevity, I did not include that in the response.
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
Montreal, QC
February 7, 2011
Aramaic
My Rabbi said that "Mon hu" is Aramaic, and he brought this as a proof of what many Rishonim and Acharonim say that Jews spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew for their secular talk.
Yitzchak Kolakowski
Richmond, VA
January 13, 2011
Mn
What comes to my mind is, "Mean-ah," and "Mine-ah" fell from the sky. That is G-d having saved the Israelites from slavery was saying, "Your struggle does not end here for you are my people."
Craig Hamilton
Sandwich, MA
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