In the Torah portion of Devarim, Moshe admonishes the Jews for misdeeds committed during their sojourn in the desert. He refers to some of their wrongdoings openly, while others he alludes to in cryptic fashion.1

One of the sins that Moshe hinted at was the complaint of the Jewish people concerning the manna, when they said that they were tired of the special bread from heaven that possessed any taste a person desired.

This, says Rashi,2 was alluded to by Moshe when he said,3 “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel … ‘between Tofel and Lavan.’ ” Quoting Rabbi Yochanan, Rashi comments: “We reviewed the entire Torah and have not found places called Tofel or Lavan. Rather, this means that Moshe admonished them for their words of dispute [in Hebrew, tofel] concerning the manna, which was white [in Hebrew, lavan]. ”

Why did Moshe speak of their murmuring in such a hidden fashion? Also, what is the relationship between the complaint and the fact that the manna was white; what is the significance of the manna’s color?

All aspects of creation are inherently limited; in its natural state, for example, it is impossible for something to have two distinct flavors, and surely it is not possible for one thing to contain all flavors.

Understandably, the fact that the manna contained all flavors indicated that it was not of earthly origin but “bread from heaven.4” As such, it did not have any of the above-mentioned physical limitations, and could simultaneously have even those flavors that are in conflict with each other. Thus even as the manna descended into this world, it remained unbound by physical limitations.5

And while it is true that all things physical possess a spiritual source, as they descend into this physical realm each assumes physical properties and limitations. The manna, however, even as it descended below and provided physical sustenance, remained essentially the same as it was above.6

This is why the manna was white: Since this heavenly bread descended into the physical world, it had to assume some color. So it took on the simplest and most ethereal color of all.7

The Jewish people, however, complained that the manna wasn’t physical enough for them; they had grown tired of eating such “insubstantial” food, food that was instantly absorbed by the body and did not have the bulk of regular food.

This, then, was the reason for their complaint that the manna was “too white,” i.e., it was too unearthly.

Now, the Torah is also known as “bread.”8 Our Sages thus explain9 that heavenly and earthly bread also denote the concealed and revealed parts of Torah.

Since the revealed portion is clothed in human intellect, it is comprehended through discussion, debate, questions, etc., and is likened to tangible earthly bread.

Although the concealed portion of Torah is also understood intellectually, G‑dliness is palpably felt within it as well. It is therefore likened to the heavenly bread that retained its spiritual characteristics even as it descended below.

Thus, complaining against the manna also means complaining about the esoteric portion of Torah, that it is a form of study that cannot be wholly apprehended with one’s intellect — it remains metaphysical and intangible.

Moshe therefore communicated the admonition about the manna in a concealed manner, for the lack of satisfaction with the manna was not only with the physical substance, but extended to the concealed aspect of manna, the esoteric portion of Torah, which is connected to the concealed aspects of our souls.10

By admonishing the Jewish People in this fashion, Moshe uncovered and revealed this aspect of their souls, thus rousing within them a desire for “heavenly bread.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. IX, pp. 14-20.