Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:57)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Raising a New Generation
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْغَمَامَ وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ ۖ كُلُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ ۖ وَمَا ظَلَمُونَا وَلَـٰكِن كَانُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ ﴿٥٧﴾
Translation: We shaded you with clouds, and sent down to you manna and salwa [saying]: ‘Eat of the good things We have provided for you.’ And they did not wrong Us, but they used to wrong [only] themselves.
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 that time, the Amalekites, who were a strong nation, lived in that region and the Israelites could not claim the land without fighting them.
Lack of conviction in Prophet Musa (AS) and cowardice in facing the Amalekites dissuaded the Children of Israel to enter the land. Two chiefs of the Israelites, Yusha-ibn-Nun (Joshua) and Kalib-ibn-Youfna (Caleb), promised victory over the Amalekites upon their entering. Nevertheless, the Israelite stance remained the same, saying “O Moses, we will never enter it so long as they (the Amalekites) remain in it. Go ahead, you and your Lord, and fight! We will be sitting right here.”
When Prophet Musa (AS) heard that the Israelites were firm in defying the Lord, he took his grievance to Allah (SWT) and said:
فَافْرُقْ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَ الْقَوْمِ الْفَاسِقِينَ
[O! My Lord] separate us from the disobedient people.
Henceforth, Allah (SWT) condemned the Israelites to rove in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula for forty years.
A certain group of Israelites felt remorse and regretted their decision. They turned to the Lord in repentance and implored His forgiveness. God returned to them in mercy. This was another instance of God’s mercy towards the Israelites despite their defiance.
The above verse mentioned two vital blessings that Allah (SWT) bestowed to the Children of Israel in that wilderness. The first one was a canopy of light cloud that protects from the blistering heat of the sun, and the second one was food and sustenance in the forms of “Al-manna” and “al-Salwa” [Arabic: (الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ)]. A third one, which is fountains of gushing water, is mentioned in the verse 60 of this chapter.
وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْغَمَامَ وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ ۖ
We [Allah] shaded you with clouds [to protect you from heat of sun], and sent down to you manna and salwa:
At the end, one can see how Allah (SWT) wished for the Children of Israel to enjoy the good provisions which He had provided them.
كُلُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ
‘[Allah says] eat of the good things We have provided for you.’
The verses draw a general conclusion that Allah (SWT) is sovereign, and humankind’s defiance will not affect Him. Instead, man will suffer the consequences from his own wrongdoings.
وَمَا ظَلَمُونَا وَلَـٰكِن كَانُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
And they [the Children of Israel] did not wrong Us, but they used to wrong [only] themselves.
Points to Ponder: The Children of Israel who came out of Egypt were raised in slavery and servitude; they were weak and did not have the courage and conviction to stand for their rights. Within forty years of roaming in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, Prophet Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) raised a new generation that would show a determination to overcome their adversaries.
From this perspective, roving in the wilderness was not a punitive punishment. Rather, it was an opportunity to raise a new generation that sought itself to be free from man’s slavery.
Imam Ali (AS), in his letter to His son, Imam Hassan (AS), said:
وَ لَا تَكُنْ عَبْدَ غَيْرِكَ وَ قَدْ جَعَلَكَ اللَّهُ حُرّاً
Do not be the slave of other man since Allah (SWT) created you free.
The Holy Land: The departure of Israelites from the Sinai Peninsula is explicitly mentioned in the Chapter Al-Maida, verse 21:
يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ
O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you,
The term [الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ] corresponds roughly to present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. The city of Jerusalem is part of the Holy Land that was built during the time of Prophet Sulaiman (AS).
Appendix: The word “anzalna” [Arabic: ( أَنزَلْنَا)] means to send down, as well as hospitality; for instance, in chapter 56:9, one reads [فَنُزُلٌ مِّنْ حَمِيمٍ] people are treated with boiling water in hell. Similarly, in chapter 3:198, one reads [خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا نُزُلًا مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ] believers remain forever in the garden as guests of Allah (SWT). Within this context, the term [وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ] implies that Allah (SWT) entertained the Israelites with “Al-manna” and “al-Salwa”.
Commentators differ on interpretations of “Al-manna” [Arabic: (الْمَنَّ)] and “al-Salwa” [Arabic: (السَّلْوَىٰ)]. Al-manna could be a type of natural honey or sweet found at the Sinai Peninsula, and al-Salwa could be a type of small bird the size of a pigeon.
Arabic words [الْغَمَامَ] and [السَّحَابِ] mean cloud. However, [الْغَمَامَ] is a light white cloud, whereas [السَّحَابِ] is heavy dark cloud.