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What was the nature of life in the midbar (מדבר)? Was it a completely miraculous existence or was it a typical nomadic lifestyle supplemented by the occasional miracle? Were the miracles achieved by completely supernatural methods or by harnessing the laws of nature? These questions are partially dependent on defining the general term מדבר and identifying the specific terrain of the Israelites' route:
The Term מדבר
- Totally barren land – see descriptions of desolation in Devarim 32:10, Yirmeyahu 2:6.
- Wilderness with pasture for livestock to graze – Radak.1
- Only manna (and שלו)2 for the entire forty years – Ramban.
- The manna fell only when there was no alternative source of food – Rashbam, Minchah Belulah.3
- There were generally other sources of food, and the purpose of the manna was only to be a supplement and prevent depletion of supplies and money – Hoil Moshe.4
- A miraculous well accompanied the nation throughout the forty years in the merit of Miryam – Tosefta Sukkah.5
- The nation found natural water sources during most of the period – Ibn Ezra.
- One set of clothing and footwear lasted for the entire forty years – Pesikta DeRav Kahana, Rashi.
- The Israelites had multiple sets of clothing – Others cited in Ibn Ezra, Shadal.
- The nation had significant livestock throughout the forty years – This would be the simple reading of Bemidbar 20:4,11.
- The people did not have any animals during most of their stay – Ibn Ezra.
Completely supernatural or using laws of nature? See Miracles – Natural and Supernatural.