Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blessing Over Bread

The Value of Bread-

There’s a verse, “He was known to them in the breaking of bread” (Lk. 24:35). As it stands alone the line is beautiful; it appears at the end of an amazing story about how Yeshua remained hidden while he spoke with two men on the road after his resurrection. They conversed and he expounded regarding the character of Mashiach and the necessity of his death. As they approached their destination the men invited this unknown chacham (sage) to their meal. He remained concealed to them until he took bread and broke it. At that very moment their eyes were opened and they realized who this tzaddik was and then he was gone, he disappeared.

This bread breaking is an interesting thing. In Jewish legal thought a dining experience is not considered a meal without bread. Any child of Avraham…who was known for his hospitality…should be prepared to share their meal; for this reason traditional texts use the term breaking bread to describe the mealtime activity. Sharing, breaking, dividing and connecting, this is the purpose of a meal…of bread.

Inasmuch as the Hebrew language has assigned numerical value to each of its letters, gematria is the practice of deriving connections in a text through those numerical relationships. A brief example of this kind of interpretation is given by the hand of the Apostle to the nations. He explains as follows:

"Again I will insist to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Torah." (Gal. 5:3)

Although it does not come across in any other language but Hebrew, Paul is using a bit of well known gematria in the statement above. On the eighth day a Jewish boy takes circumcision and enters the brit (ברית) of Avraham. The numerical value of ברית is 612. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, for this reason it is said that this mitzvah of circumcision is a permanent reminder of all the others.

In his Haggadah (108) Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin includes some exceptional commentary regarding the shared meal which he derives in a similar way. He explains that if one takes the term breaking bread literally, we can divide the numerical value of the word לחם (bread) in to two and arrive at the number 39. Our "divided bread” is connected numerically to the Hebrew word for "dew." Isaiah explains:

"Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For a dew of lights is your dew, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits." (26:19)

יחיו מתיך נבלתי יקומון הקיצו ורננו שכני עפר כי טל אורת טלך וארץ רפאים תפיל׃

Our commentary explains that to offer a portion of bread is to offer a few drops of dew…dew which brings forth more than plants from the earth…a dew of resurrection from the dead.

Shabbat Challah-

The meal of Shabbat begins with our making kiddush (sanctification) over a cup of wine, this however, poses a problem. For many reasons, some of which were explained above, bread holds a special place in Jewish law and the blessing of bread has preeminence over all other foods including wine. Because our Shabbat meal should begin with the blessing over the cup we must “hide” the challah while kiddush is made. Practically this is done by covering the challah above and below. Below the challahs are hidden by a table cloth or cutting board, and above the two loaves are masked with a challah cover, towel, or anything including a simple napkin.

Again, with this custom we must return to the unavoidable mystical depth of our tradition. On Shabbat we take two loaves because the children of Israel did not collect manna on Shabbat, but instead received twice the manna just before the holiday. Commenting on Exodus 16:13, Rashi explains that the manna which was collected after it appeared on the ground each morning was covered in multiple layers of dew, above and below. Our challah covers serve to reflect this arrangement and strengthen the connection previously suggested between the communal bread of Shabbat and the dew and resurrection of Isaiah.

Saying HaMotzi-

Although there are Jews in the East whose Shabbat challah appears as a circular cake, the common tradition is a braided loaf. The blessing made over bread is called HaMotzi, the word means “who brings out” and is a quote from the blessing itself. We bless our G-d “who brings out” bread from the earth. On the most basic level we are showing gratitude to HaShem for his provision of wheat which grows from the ground. For chasidei Yeshua however the phrase contains a deeper meaning; in a profound sense we are blessing our G-d who brought Yeshua up from the grave.

Mashiach said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…” (Yo. 6: 48-51)

Blessing Over Challah How2

After rising from the table to wash our hands, the head of the table lifts the two challahs, wrapping them together in their hands with the top cover and says:

Baruch atah HaShem, Elokeinu, melech ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

Blessed are you, HaShem, our G-d, king of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.


Pastor Steven said...

Thanks for the insight Tim, for someone new to Jewish teaching and tradition the last three posts have been very interesting and helpful.



Tim Layne said...

That's great to hear. I will try to continue these intros for a few more weeks but they could get interrupted now and then by a random bit of inspiration. These bits of introduction will continue to have a similar black and white look while other insertions will be in color I think...yeah that sounds good to me. Enjoy the posts, I'll try to keep them coming.

justin & jacklynn said...

yes, please keep them coming. i have already learned so much from your writings and look forward to more. It is a beautiful combination of teaching and explianing the beauty of Shabbat.

matthew said...

Don't say "ha motzi lechem," but "ha motzi lahem" that is, He brings forth "to them" / "for them" out of the ground - alluding to the resurrection


matthew said...

... Then... according to mishneh berurah the lower loaf is broken. (and accordingly, one must eat of it immediately) The other/top challah is returned to its place. Generally it is consumed on shabbat day. What does this mean?
So to in Mashiach, when descending to the lower world his body is broken, and we read: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him to life on the last day." Of such it is written: "sown a natural body, .. raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." Thus he writes: "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Mashiach and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenlies in Christ.. so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." While returning to his place, it seems there are two challahs, two breads of royalty, yet really they are one. Indeed some even have the custom of braiding them as one.
When the meal is completed, the challah is concealed, yet to be revealed again. And when is it revealed again but at, "The Great Kiddush." In which the illustrious "v'shamru" formerly not recited now is, and according to the Alter Rebbe makes for a yarid or "fair" in the heavenlies. (Chabadishe custom / Tehillas Hashem, Erev Shabbat)
Here's what applies to all: If you make your erev shabbat kiddush quickly or even at normal pace, and the candles were lit at 18 minutes, then there is a question. Is it shabbat yet? Technically, for halachic purposes, yes, it is shabbat, and kabbalistically we have "brought it in" or "welcomed it in" the presence of shabbat" as it were. Yet the actual return of the Sun to his place it seems has not exactly happened yet. Though we anticipate it as so, and indeed even proceed on, fully convinced, it is, and will be, shabbat. In the mean time? We're getting a taste of shabbat, delighting in its pleasures, enthralled in its praise. As malchut, the royalty of His kingdom, is ushered in, shabbat really, in essence, has already begun. Yet all the while, "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of G-d." And truly, it's just a few moments and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.." "the dead in Christ will rise first."
Be strong, and of a good cheer, "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry."
May it be so, bim'heira v'yameinu, (speedily-soon, in our days), that we who believe enter into His eternal glory and Sabbath he has prepared for us, from the foundations of the world.
May it be so, bim'heira v'yameinu, Omein v'omein,

Tim Layne said...

Amen and a big Yasher Koach.

matthew said...

I'm glad you don't mind the comments, and sure glad we connected over here. Interesting it was on your post for the explanation of "breaking bread." :)

Thanks for the piece! :)