Moses Sweetens Bitter Water

Leaving the shores of the Red Sea behind, the children of Israel entered the dreary wilderness of Shur, and proceeding through a pathless waste, found no springs or wells, so that they were parched with thirst. At last they arrived at a spring; but when they put their lips to the fountain, they, who had so long been accustomed to the delicious and far-famed water of the Nile, found it utterly unpalatable. It was bitter and brackish, and has caused the place to be called Marah, that is, Bitterness. Dehydrated from thirst, the unfortunate people murmured against Moses, exclaiming, "What shall we drink?" Moses prayed to the L-rd, and in answer to his supplications, the L-rd showed him a tree, and bade him cast some of its wood into the water. No sooner was this done than the bitterness was changed into sweetness, and the Israelites were saved from the agony of thirst.

There, in Marah, G‑d gave the Jewish people certain laws and commands, and told them that if they would obey G‑d, nothing like what had happened to the Egyptians could happen to them. For G‑d Himself would take care of them, and heal all their wounds.

Meat and Bread in the Desert

Weary and hungry, Israel reached the desert of Zin, and again they began to raise their voices against Moses and Aaron for leading them into a place where there was neither bread nor meat to still their hunger. They said (Exodus 16:3): "If only we had died by the hand of the L-rd in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill! For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death."

G‑d told Moses that He would give the children of Israel a heavenly food, that would rain down from the skies. This the children of Israel would gather every morning in an amount sufficient for a full day's needs. Only on Friday they were to gather a two days' supply, so that they would not have to go out and gather food on the Shabbat. And G‑d had Moses and Aaron tell the children of Israel: "At dusk ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the L-rd your G‑d." Thus it happened..

In the evening, birds came and covered the camp, so that everyone had more meat than he could possibly eat. In the morning, however, fine grains, like dew, covered the ground. The people of Israel asked what it was Moses replied that it was the heavenly bread G‑d had given them to eat. Everyone was to gather as much as he needed for the day, but no more. Nothing was to be left for the next morning, for it would come down daily. The children of Israel called this bread from heaven "Manna." It was pure white' food and tasted like the finest and most delicious foods imaginable: Whatever taste one desired, the manna had. They gathered the manna, some more, some less. But when they measured what they had, they found that nobody had more or less than he needed.

Some men, however, disobeyed Moses' order and kept some of the manna for the next day. But in the morning it had become rotten and inedible. On the sixth day, the children of Israel gathered a double portion, one for Friday and one for the Shabbat. They prepared all the food for the seventh day in advance. Only on the Shabbat day the manna gathered on the previous morning was not spoiled. On the Shabbat morning some people went out to gather manna, in defiance of Moses' order; but they did not find anything. Moses became angry at this disobedience and he told these unruly people in the name of G‑d: "How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See that the L-rd has given you the Shabbat. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day." Following that the children of Israel rested on the seventh day, the Shabbat.

For forty years G‑d fed the Jewish people this heavenly bread. At G‑d's command Aaron filled one jar with manna and kept it in the holy Tabernacle, so that the generations to come would be able to see with their own eyes what G‑d had given to the children of Israel in the desert after he had taken them out of Egypt1.

Water from a Rock

From the desert of Zin, the Jewish people made their way to Rephidim, another waterless place in the desert. Again they grumbled against their leaders for leading them through places where they and their flocks were in danger of death through thirst. G‑d ordered Moses to take the Elders of the people to a rock which he was to hit with his staff. From the dry stone, a well would then spring forth, giving ample water to quench the thirst of the children of Israel, and their livestock. Moses did as G‑d had commanded him, and once again man and beast were saved. The place where this happened afterwards was called "Massa" (trial), and "Meriva" (strife), in commemoration of the lack of faith in G‑d and Moses, which the children of Israel had displayed in that place.