Is it a typo? Is it slang? Is it a borrowed Egyptian word rendered in phonetic Hebrew? Is it a word play pun?
Rabbis and scholars alike have puzzled over these two words. It's not so much their meaning that they dispute, for most are in agreement that, in context, it is clearly meant to mean "What is this?"
Ah yes, context. We're talking, of course, about the manna. In Ex. 16:15 we read:
"When the children of Israel saw it, they said each-man to his brother: "Mahn hu/what is it?" for they did not know what it was. Moshe said to them: "It is the bread that YHWH has given you for eating." (Everett Fox)
Now, in ordinary Hebrew, one might have expected to read "mah hu?" "what is it?" Yet the Hebrew text clearly reads "man hu." A nice pun considering the people then named in "manna." Or is the pun the other way around?
Some scholars argue that in Egyptian and other semitic languages, there is some evidence that the word "man" means "what." Perhaps Moshe was simply using a colloquiallism from the Egyptian. Or perhaps some scribe simply slipped and scribed a "nun sofit" instead of a "hey."
As I reflected upon all of this during this past week, I found myself becoming increasingly amused. I wondered why. Something was tickling me at the back of my brain.
And then the light dawned. And it is with this simple though that I leave you this week: how wonderfully ironic that these very words which most believe mean "what is it?" are themselves cause for us to look at them and ask "what is it?"
You gotta love Torah!
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Beshalakh 5767-March On
Beshalakh 5766-Manna Mania II
Beshalakh 5765-Gd's War
Beshalach 5763-Mi Chamonu
Beshalach 5760-Moshe's Musings
Beshalach 5761-Warrior Gd
Beshalach 5762-Manna mania
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