Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:61)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Living with Dignity
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَن نَّصْبِرَ عَلَىٰ طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِن بَقْلِهَا وَقِثَّائِهَا وَفُومِهَا وَعَدَسِهَا وَبَصَلِهَا ۖ قَالَ أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِي هُوَ أَدْنَىٰ بِالَّذِي هُوَ خَيْرٌ ۚ اهْبِطُوا مِصْرًا فَإِنَّ لَكُم مَّا سَأَلْتُمْ ۗ وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا وَّكَانُوا يَعْتَدُونَ ﴿٦١﴾
Translation: And when you (the Children of Israel) said, ‘O Moses, ‘We will not put up with one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us, so that He may bring forth for us of that which the earth grows—its greens and cucumbers, its garlic, lentils, and onions.’ He said, ‘Do you seek to replace what is superior with that which is inferior? Go down to any town and you will indeed get what you ask for!’ So they were struck with abasement and poverty, and they earned Allah’s wrath. That, because they would deny the signs of Allah and kill the prophets unjustly. That, because they would disobey and commit transgressions.
Commentary: After Prophet Musa (AS) received the tablets of law, Allah (SWT) directed the Children of Israel to depart from the Sinai Peninsula to the Holy Land [Arabic: (الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ)]. At this time, the Amalekites who were a tyrannical nation lived in that region and the Israelites could not claim the land without defeating them.
The Children of Israel who left Egypt were raised in slavery and servitude. Firon inflicted the worst kind of cruelty and oppression upon them: he slaughtered their sons, took their females as bondwomen, and forced their males to perform excruciating and laborious work. Therefore, they steadily became an irresolute, weak-minded and a cowardly nation. Lack of faith in the words of Prophet Musa (AS) unfortunately hindered the Israelites in overcoming their fear of Amalekites.
Fear of facing the Amalekites dissuaded the Children of Israel to enter the land. Subsequently, they were condemned to rove in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, as they could not return to Egypt to live as slaves again.
In spite of their defiance, Allah (SWT) in His mercy protected the Israelites from the blistering heat of the sun by a canopy of light clouds that hovered over their heads. He provided them springs of pure water in the midst of the wilderness of the desert and food and sustenance in the forms of “Al-manna” and “al-Salwa” [Arabic: (الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ)]. Al-manna was a type of natural honey or natural sweet found at the Sinai Peninsula, and al-Salwa was a type of small bird about the size of a pigeon.
The Israelites were evidently hankering after leaving behind the delicacies of Egypt. Once, they complained to Prophet Musa (AS) that they no longer could bear one kind of food. They asked him to call upon his Lord to make the barren land of Sinai produce edible vegetables such as green herbs, cucumbers, garlic, lentils and onions.
The Prophet Musa (AS) replied, “Would you take an inferior thing in exchange for the better one?” If that is the case, “then go back with indignity to any town (like Egypt) and then you could have what you are asking for!”
The Children of Israel could find such a variety of foods either in the Promised Land or any other city as Egypt. They refused to march towards the Promised Land, live there with honour and dignity, and enjoy its variety of foods and fruits. The alternative was to return to a town such as Egypt but live an enslaved life.
Prophet Musa (AS) asked the Israelites which choice is better. To live free with honour and dignity in midst of the wilderness with the price of enduring only one kind food, or to live as slaves with the price of enjoying delicacies?