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Mizmor 078 – Lessons of History (Part 4, Feeding the Multitudes)
NOTE: For a PDF copy of this part of the interim version, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text. [Rev W4]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 078, Part 4 (Feeding the Multitudes)
Asaph teaches a fourth lesson of history, reminding the people how their ancestors were fed in the Midbar with the miraculous bread called manna. Despite this great blessing the people challenged Hashem because He had not provided them with fresh meat as well. In their hearts they convinced themselves that the lack of meat signaled an inability on the part of their Creator to provide them with whatever they craved.
Tragically, their lack of faith and trust in Hashem angered Him greatly and as a result He executed a harsh judgment against them. But first He granted them their wish in the form of a miraculous flight of quail, which fell in the midst of their camp. While they were still gorging themselves on the meat, they were struck by calamity and many died.
Exploring the Mizmor
(1) Challenging Hashem
This part of Mizmor 078 begins with the demand for meat, a request that was framed in the form of a brazen challenge rather than a humble request.
(יז) וַיּוֹסִיפוּ עוֹד לַחֲטֹא־לוֹ לַמְרוֹת עֶלְיוֹן בַּצִּיָּה: (יח) וַיְנַסּוּ־אֵל בִּלְבָבָם לִשְׁאָל־אֹכֶל לְנַפְשָׁם: (יט) וַיְדַבְּרוּ בֵּאלֹקִים אָמְרוּ הֲיוּכַל אֵ־ל לַעֲרֹךְ שֻׁלְחָן בַּמִּדְבָּר: (כ) הֵן הִכָּה־צוּר וַיָּזוּבוּ מַיִם וּנְחָלִים יִשְׁטֹפוּ הֲגַם־לֶחֶם יוּכַל תֵּת אִם־יָכִין שְׁאֵר לְעַמּוֹ:
(17) But they continued to sin against Him, defying the Most High in the parched land. (18) They challenged G-d in their hearts by demanding food for their craving. (19) They spoke against G-d, saying,”Can G-d provide a [fully] set table in the wilderness?” (20) “True, He struck a rock and water flowed and streams gushed forth, but can He also provide bread? Can He also supply meat for His people?”
(2) The Miraculous Manna
Asaph describes how the people’s ingratitude angered Hashem, especially in light of the manna which they had already been receiving.
(כא) לָכֵן שָׁמַע ה’ וַיִּתְעַבָּר וְאֵשׁ נִשְּׂקָה בְיַעֲקֹב וְגַם־אַף עָלָה בְיִשְׂרָאֵל: (כב) כִּי לֹא הֶאֱמִינוּ בֵּאלֹהִים וְלֹא בָטְחוּ בִּישׁוּעָתוֹ: (כג) וַיְצַו שְׁחָקִים מִמָּעַל וְדַלְתֵי שָׁמַיִם פָּתָח: (כד) וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם מָן לֶאֱכֹל וּדְגַן־שָׁמַיִם נָתַן לָמוֹ: (כה) לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים אָכַל אִישׁ צֵידָה שָׁלַח לָהֶם לָשֹׂבַע: (כו) יַסַּע קָדִים בַּשָּׁמָיִם וַיְנַהֵג בְּעֻזּוֹ תֵימָן: (כז) וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם כֶּעָפָר שְׁאֵר וּכְחוֹל יַמִּים עוֹף כָּנָף:
(21) And so Hashem heard [their thoughts] and became angry. A fire was kindled against Yaakov and wrath also flared against Yisrael … (22) … because they did not believe in G-d and they did not trust in His yeshuah … (23) … [although] He had already commanded the skies above and opened the gates of heaven … (24) …. and rained upon them manna to eat, giving them heavenly grain. (25) Man ate the bread of angels; He sent [along with] them provisions in abundance.
(3) The Miraculous Quail
The first reaction of Hashem to the demand for meat was to provide the people with a flight of quail, which they immediately consumed.
(כו) יַסַּע קָדִים בַּשָּׁמָיִם וַיְנַהֵג בְּעֻזּוֹ תֵימָן: (כז) וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם כֶּעָפָר שְׁאֵר וּכְחוֹל יַמִּים עוֹף כָּנָף: (כח) וַיַּפֵּל בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֵהוּ סָבִיב לְמִשְׁכְּנֹתָיו: (כט) וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׂבְּעוּ מְאֹד וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִא לָהֶם:
(26) [Now] He made the east wind blow through the heavens and He guided the south wind with His strength. (27) He rained savory meat upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of sea. (28) He let them fall inside His camp, all around His dwellings. (29) So they ate and were abundantly satisfied for He brought them what they craved.
(4) Divine Punishment
This part of the mizmor concludes with a brief description of the high price the people were made to pay for the pleasure they thought was so important to them.
(ל) לֹא־זָרוּ מִתַּאֲוָתָם עוֹד אָכְלָם בְּפִיהֶם: (לא) וְאַף אֱלֹהִים עָלָה בָהֶם וַיַּהֲרֹג בְּמִשְׁמַנֵּיהֶם וּבַחוּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִכְרִיעַ:
(30) They had not yet lost their craving; their food was still in their mouth … (31) when the anger of G-d flared against them. So He slew the sturdiest among them and He struck down the finest among the young men of Yisrael.
Learning the Mizmor
(1) Challenging Hashem
(יז) וַיּוֹסִיפוּ עוֹד לַחֲטֹא לוֹ 
לַמְרוֹת עֶלְיוֹן בַּצִּיָּה:
But after having sinned with their impatient demands for water and then seeing the miracles by which the water came, they continued to sin against Him — וַיּוֹסִיפוּ עוֹד לַחֲטֹא־לוֹ , defying the Most High in the parched land — לַמְרוֹת עֶלְיוֹן בַּצִּיָּה Even in the vast desert where they had no one beside Him, they challenged the omnipotence of Hashem, thinking that His power was delegated to lesser gods.
(יח) וַיְנַסּוּ אֵ־ל בִּלְבָבָם
לִשְׁאָל אֹכֶל לְנַפְשָׁם:
They challenged G-d in their hearts — וַיְנַסּוּ־אֵ־ל בִּלְבָבָם , by demanding food that they did not need, only to satisfy their craving — לִשְׁאָל־אֹכֶל לְנַפְשָׁם . The manna was good and tasty, yet they asked for meat to see if He could do it. However, they didn’t say this outright. Their claim was that they needed meat. Although their defiance was primarily in their heart, Hasahem heard their thoughts (verse 21).
(יט) וַיְדַבְּרוּ בֵּאלֹקִים 
אָמְרוּ הֲיוּכַל אֵ־ל לַעֲרֹךְ שֻׁלְחָן בַּמִּדְבָּר:
They spoke against G-d — וַיְדַבְּרוּ בֵּאלֹקִים as if to be saying, “Can G-d provide a fully set table to serve meat in the wilderness — אָמְרוּ הֲיוּכַל אֵ־ל לַעֲרֹךְ שֻׁלְחָן בַּמִּדְבָּר where there is no human habitation?” Why did they raise the level of their expectation to an unreasonable level, if not to challenge Hashem?
(כ) הֵן הִכָּה צוּר וַיָּזוּבוּ מַיִם וּנְחָלִים יִשְׁטֹפוּ 
הֲגַם לֶחֶם יוּכַל תֵּת אִם יָכִין שְׁאֵר לְעַמּוֹ:
Where is the limit of His capacity? True, He struck a rock and water flowed and streams gushed forth — הֵן הִכָּה־צוּר וַיָּזוּבוּ מַיִם וּנְחָלִים יִשְׁטֹפוּ , but can He also provide bread  הֲגַם־לֶחֶם יוּכַל תֵּת ? Is He not using up His resources? And if He provided water and bread (manna), can He also supply meat for His people — אִם־יָכִין שְׁאֵר לְעַמּוֹ ?”
(2) The Miraculous Manna
(כא) לָכֵן שָׁמַע ה’ וַיִּתְעַבָּר 
וְאֵשׁ נִשְּׂקָה בְיַעֲקֹב וְגַם אַף עָלָה בְיִשְׂרָאֵל:
And so  לָכֵן , even though they spoke in their hearts and not aloud, Hashem heard their thoughts and became angry — שָׁמַע ה’ וַיִּתְעַבָּר . A fire of rage was kindled against Yaakov — וְאֵשׁ נִשְּׂקָה בְיַעֲקֹב , referring to the people who were seeking pretexts for complaint as mentioned in Bamidbar 11:1. And wrath also flared against Yisrael — וְגַם־אַף עָלָה בְיִשְׂרָאֵל , referring to the finer elements of the people who were influenced by the riff-raff among them in a separate incident, as mentioned in 11:4 ibid.
(כב) כִּי לֹא הֶאֱמִינוּ בֵּאלֹקִים 
וְלֹא בָטְחוּ בִּישׁוּעָתוֹ:
The anger of Hashem was not so much because of the request for meat as such, but because it meant that they did not believe in the ability of G-d  כִּי לֹא הֶאֱמִינוּ בֵּאלֹקִים to give them what they asked nor did they believe He had their interest at heart in everything He did. And so they did not place their trust in His yeshuah — וְלֹא בָטְחוּ בִּישׁוּעָתוֹ They did not feel they could completely rely upon Him to save them in the future.
(כג) וַיְצַו שְׁחָקִים מִמָּעַל 
וְדַלְתֵי שָׁמַיִם פָּתָח:
Furthermore, Hashem was angry because they did not learn a lesson from His previous kindness to them. He had already commanded the skies above — וַיְצַו שְׁחָקִים מִמָּעַל , and opened the gates of heaven — וְדַלְתֵי שָׁמַיִם פָּתָח changing the very laws of nature to provide them with a generous supply of miraculous food on a daily basis.
(כד) וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם מָן לֶאֱכֹל 
וּדְגַן שָׁמַיִם נָתַן לָמוֹ:
From heaven He rained upon them manna to eat — וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם מָן לֶאֱכֹל , and He gave them heavenly grain — וּדְגַן־שָׁמַיִם נָתַן לָמוֹ  to help them develop the spiritual side of their being.
(כה) לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים אָכַל אִישׁ 
צֵידָה שָׁלַח לָהֶם לָשֹׂבַע:
Man ate the bread of angels — לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים אָכַל אִישׁ a miracle food that left no residue in the body. Wherever the people went He sent along with them provisions in abundance — צֵידָה שָׁלַח לָהֶם לָשֹׂבַע so that even though the manna had the characteristics of a spiritual food each person who ate it felt satiated.
(3) The Miraculous Quail
(כו) יַסַּע קָדִים בַּשָּׁמָיִם 
וַיְנַהֵג בְּעֻזּוֹ תֵימָן:
And now order to provide fresh meat to the people Hashem used a combination of winds to bring up huge quantities of quail from the south-east. He made the east wind blow through the heavens — יַסַּע קָדִים בַּשָּׁמָיִם  to drive the quail across the sea and He guided the south wind with His strength — וַיְנַהֵג בְּעֻזּוֹ תֵימָן  to waft them in the direction of the camps of Yisrael.
(כז) וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם כֶּעָפָר שְׁאֵר 
וּכְחוֹל יַמִּים עוֹף כָּנָף:
And He rained savory meat upon them like dust — וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם כֶּעָפָר שְׁאֵר , in the form of winged birds, which did not fly away but plummeted to earth like the sand of sea — וּכְחוֹל יַמִּים עוֹף כָּנָף There were so many of them that they were like dust, but intead being blown away like dust, they fell to the ground like sand at the seashore.
(כח) וַיַּפֵּל בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֵהוּ 
סָבִיב לְמִשְׁכְּנֹתָיו:
Hashem let them fall inside His camp — וַיַּפֵּל בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֵהוּ , all around His dwellings — סָבִיב לְמִשְׁכְּנֹתָיו , clearing showing the people that the quail were being provided to feed them. The quail fell conveniently nearby but not directly on the dwellings.
(כט) וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׂבְּעוּ מְאֹד 
וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִא לָהֶם:
So they ate and their appetites were abundantly satisfied — וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׂבְּעוּ מְאֹד , for He brought them what they craved — וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִא לָהֶם Despite the fact that the people continued eating eating the quail day after day, they did not find it revolting. On the contrary, their appetites kept increasing. This was a sign that their motivation was not simple appetite, but defiance.
(4) Divine Punishment
(ל) לֹא זָרוּ מִתַּאֲוָתָם 
עוֹד אָכְלָם בְּפִיהֶם:
They had not yet lost their craving — לֹא־זָרוּ מִתַּאֲוָתָם their craving had not yet turned into disgust even they had eaten more than their fill. Their food was still in their mouth — עוֹד אָכְלָם בְּפִיהֶם and they were still enjoying it, …
(לא) וְאַף אֱלֹקִים עָלָה בָהֶם 
וַיַּהֲרֹג בְּמִשְׁמַנֵּיהֶם 
וּבַחוּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִכְרִיעַ:
… when the anger of G-d flared against them — וְאַף אֱלֹקִים עָלָה בָהֶם because they should have been satisfied with the manna of Heaven, which was designed their spiritual health. And they should have regretted their having pressed for rich meat instead of eating it gluttonously. So He slew the sturdiest among them — וַיַּהֲרֹג בְּמִשְׁמַנֵּיהֶם so that no one could claim they were brought down by the rigors of overeating. And He struck down the finest among the young men of Yisrael — וּבַחוּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִכְרִיעַ to clearly demonstrate that this was a punishment for their sin.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses in this part of the mizmor are listed below.
יז – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה
יח – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, מצודות, ספורנו
יט – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, המאירי
כ – מלבי”ם, בן־רמוך, ספורנו
כא – רש”י, רד”ק, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה
כב – רד”ק, מלבי”ם, נר לרגלי
כג – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, בן־רמוך, ספורנו, נר לרגלי
כד – מצודות, אבן יחייא
כה – רש”י, המאירי, נר לרגלי
כו – רד”ק, אלשיך, רשר”ה
כז – רד”ק, בן־רמוך
כח – אלשיך, מצודות, מלבי”ם
כט – רד”ק, אלשיך, מלבי”ם
ל – רד”ק, מצודות, המאירי, בן־רמוך, ספורנו
לא – רש”י, מלבי”ם, המאירי, נר לרגלי