Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ekev: Did The Israelites' Clothing Stay Fresh Naturally?

There is a pasuk which suggests that the Israelites' clothing did not wear out. Devarim 8:4:
ד שִׂמְלָתְךָ לֹא בָלְתָה, מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְרַגְלְךָ, לֹא בָצֵקָה--זֶה, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה. 4 Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
And sometimes this verse and associated midrash is cited to explain the lack of archaeological evidence found in the midbar of the Israelites' stay.

But what exactly does this pasuk mean? Rashi says:
Your clothing did not wear out The clouds of glory would rub their [the Israelites’] clothes and clean them so that they looked like freshly laundered clothes. And also their children, as they grew, their clothes grew along with them, like a snail’s shell, which grows along with it- [Pesikta d’Rav Kahana p. 92a]
Thus, it was the same clothing, and it did not wear out as clothing usually does. And this, Rashi cites the midrash, namely the pesikta derav kahana, was due to the actions of the ananei hakavod.

In contrast, Shadal writes:
ד ] שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך : לא חסרת חליפות שמלות עד שתבלה שמלתך על בשרך מבלי להחליפה , וכן רגלך לא בצקה מבלי מנעלים , כי ה ' זימן לך כל צרכך . לפי זה תבת מעליך מדוייקת , כי לא היה שלא בלו השמלות דרך נס , אבל לא בלו בהיותן על בשרם , עד שיצטרכו ללבוש בלואים , והנה "מעליך" פירושו בהיותן עליך , כמו עורי שחר מעלי ( איוב ל ' ל '), בעודו עלי

Thus, this was not a miracle, that their clothing, supernaturally, did not wear out. Rather, they had plenty of changes of clothing, such that they did not need to continue wearing the same clothing until it wore out. And they did not have to go without shoes, for Hashem prepared all their needs.

Ibn Ezra sort of dances between the two. He brings down the option that they brought many changes of clothing out of Egypt with them, but also suggests that it is possible that the mon which they ate did not produce sweat. This fits in well with Greek science. Theophrastus maintained (see here) that "when food is taken in, some of the matter is suited to the nature of flesh and some is not. The former is what is sweetest and lightest; it is assimilated and becomes flesh. The latter is salty; it cannot be assimilated and therefore must be secreted."

If the manna was such optimal, heavenly food, then it could perhaps have none of the non-optimal matter. As such, they would not have sweated, and their clothing would have lasted better.

This idea could also fit in with the midrash on the manna as lechem hakilokel, in that they did not have to use the bathroom, and so feared they would eventually burst.

See Ibn Ezra inside, and Ramban's reaction to his position, here in mikraot gedolot.

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