Lechem: bread or war?

August 7, 2017 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers questions about bread…

Rabbi Raymond Apple

BREAD & WAR

Q. How can the Hebrew for bread (“lechem”) be connected to the word for war (“milchamah”)?

A. Wars are often fought over economic issues. Not just conventional wars, but political tussles and elections.

It is also said that securing one’s bread, the staff of life, is the most basic of all the struggles with which a person is involved.

BREAD FROM THE EARTH

Q. Why does the “Motzi” blessing refer to God bringing forth bread from the earth – why doesn’t it say that He brings forth wheat or corn?

A. The wording comes from Psalm 104:14. The idea is that God gives us the raw materials and we are His partners in turning them into a finished product.

Some of the sages said that if Adam had not sinned, the bread that man eats would grow ready-made, and this is what will happen in the messianic age.

BREAD AS A MEAL

Q. Why is it that a meal containing bread is considered a proper meal, requiring a Grace After Meals?

A. Psalm 104:15 lists bread, wine and oil as the three principal sources of nourishment.

Bread-making was known in ancient times. The use of yeast to make the bread rise probably derives from the Egyptians. The Israelite slaves presumably yearned for leavened bread like high-class Egyptians and it was a disappointment when their dough was baked hard by the sun.

There is a narrow divide between bread and cake; the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 168) reports the debates. To obviate the need for a ritual washing of the hands and a full Grace After Meals there are times when “bread” is baked with ingredients that are associated with cake.

This is useful if you are eating in an aircraft, but it is a confidence trick at a formal meal such as a wedding reception.

MAKING “MOTZI”

Q. What can you tell me about the blessing for bread, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread for the earth”?

A. It seems like a simple, uncomplicated thinking-God brings forth bread from the earth. He creates the fruit of the vine. He creates the fruit of the tree, the fruit of the ground, etc.

Once upon a time life was simple like that. There was a direct line of connection – God, the farmer, the miller, the baker, the consumer. But that was in the pre-scientific, pre-industrial, pre-sophisticated age.

Today our daily bread involves so many functions – economic planners, chemists, mechanical engineers, advertising experts, wholesalers, retailers, distributors-that it seems that God’s involvement is increasingly remote. How can we still say “hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz”?

The answer is that God did not plant everything ready-made upon the earth: He provided the basis, and gave man the ability to build on the basis. Man is a co-worker with Him in developing and perfecting the Creation. Hence, it is up to man to bring forth bread in accordance with the will of God.

But what matters isn’t only the bread one produces; the way one produces it also matters. Just as the body is strengthened through eating good food, so the character is developed by using only ethical means to produce that food.

The “Motzi” blessing contains 10 Hebrew words, since there are at least 10 ethical requirements involved in producing bread. At the time of ploughing: “You shall not plough with an ox and an ass yoked together” (the differing pace of each animal causes suffering to the other). At the time of sowing: “You shall not sow your field with ‘kilayim’ (an unnatural grafting of two species of corn). When the corn is threshed: “You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads the corn” (it infuriates the ox and makes him suffer by being unable to eat of the corn on which he is working). At harvest time: the poor must be able to benefit from the bounties of a good harvest. And since, according to the Torah, priests and Levites have no soil of their own, a share has to be allocated to them.

The way one produces food is important. Not that this is a popular idea in the modern world. Good quality meat is of concern to most people, but it doesn’t seem to matter how the animal has suffered by being artificially reared and cruelly dealt with while it was alive. That a good return should be produced by the year’s trading is important, but so are the methods by which the results are arrived.

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