When does bread rise? When you yeast expect it. I told my friend I was going to open a bakery specializing in Indian bread. He asked me what I was going to name it. I told him, “It’s Naan of your business.” What’s the worst thing about a bread pun? It tends to get stale. And for those of you who are Gluten-free, I have some corny jokes. In a sandwich, bread literally holds our food together. I guess that is why it is called a staple food.
Bread is so important that when Hashem commands the Children of Israel in this week’s parashah to build for God a sanctuary, what is known as the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, bread plays a central role.
In the Kodesh haKedoshim, the Holy of Holies, stands the Aron HaKodesh, the holy ark that houses the Ten Commandments. Outside of the Kodesh Kedoshim, in the area known as the Kodesh, or the Holy, are three pieces of sacred furnishings. One is the Menorah. One is the Golden Alter for incense. And one is simply known as the Shulkhan, or table. On the Shulkhan stood 12 loaves, known as the Lechem HaPanim, or in English as the Showbreads.
וְעָשִׂיתָ שֻׁלְחָן עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים אַמָּתַיִם אָרְכּוֹ וְאַמָּה רָחְבּוֹ וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי קֹֽמָתוֹ
You should make a table of acacia (a-kay-shah) wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.
The table was to be coated in gold and decorated.
וְנָתַתָּ עַל־הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים לְפָנַי תָּמִיד:
And on the table, you shall set the showbread to be before Me always.
In Sefer Vayikra, the Torah gives us the recipe for the Lechem Hapanim, and further instructions.
וְלָקַחְתָּ סֹלֶת וְאָפִיתָ אֹתָהּ שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה חַלּוֹת
And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve loaves of it.
And you shall set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the Lord.
בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יַעַרְכֶנּוּ
On every Shabbat shall the kohen set the Showbreads
לִפְנֵי ה’ תָּמִיד
Before God continually
being offered from the people of Israel
as an everlasting covenant.
One of the questions asked by the Talmud in Masekhet Menachot is what does the Torah mean in both Shemot and in Vayikra when it says that the showbreads have to be before God always. Does this mean that a day cannot go by without the showbreads being present, or does this mean that even a minute cannot go by without the breads being in the table. The Talmud imagines that there were two teams of kohanim who gathered every Shabbat, one team slowly pulled out the trays with the 12 loaves of the Lechem Hapanim, while the second team at the very same time slid in trays with 12 new loaves for the next seven days.
The Lechem Hapanim was baked every Friday, just like our Challah. I wonder who the baker was in the Mishkan?
Why did bread deserve such a central role in the service of the Mishkan, and later in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple?
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin explains that bread symbolizes blessing and prosperity, and that always having the Lechem Hapanim before Hashem means that we pray that Hashem should grant us good luck and always let us have something good to eat in our homes.
Just like the manna did not fall on Shabbat, so too we are not allowed to bake bread on Shabbat. The Talmud in Masekhet Shabbat learns the prohibition against baking from the fact that a little later in Sefer Shemot the Torah places the mitzvah to keep Shabbat right next to the mitzvah of building the Mishkan. From this close placement, the Rabbis learn that whatever it took to build or operate the Mishkan is what is forbidden as labor for us on the Shabbat. The Mishnah in Masekhet Shabbat list 39 forbidden categories of labor. 11 of them are involved in the making of bread, from sowing the seeds of the wheat to grinding the flour to kneading the dough to baking the bread. It takes a lot of people doing different activities, and a lot of work, to create a single loaf of bread.
And yet, what is the ברכה we make over bread:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּֽוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ.
Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.
Does Hashem really bring forth bread from the ground? What about the farmers? And the millers? And the bakers? … And the Goldbergs. [pause] Just joking. But seriously, what about all the other people who have their hands in the dough? Perhaps the ברכה is teaching us that we are God’s partners in developing the world. When we make things, we are doing God’s will and work.
As I become a Bar Mitzvah and continue to grow in my study of Torah and my performance of Mitzvot, I know that Torah and Mitzvot are like making Challah. It takes a lot of effort, many other people help to create the final product, and all of it is in partnership with Hashem. And the best part is that a life of Torah and Mitzvot is delicious, and that’s no joke!
Ethan Porath, Grade 8