1 Shevat 5777 – Va’eira

A big Mazal Tov to the Greenberg and Edelman families on the Bar Mtizvah’s of their sons, Zac and Zac this past week. Mazal Tov! I hope and pray that this year only bring many smachot to our lives and to our community. 

I was deeply saddened last week to learn of the horrific and tragic car ramming incident that took place in the Melbourne CBD which has seen the deaths of 5 victims and more than twenty injured. We have learned that a ten-year-old Jewish girl was among the victims and we will be saying special prayers for her and her family (who were among the injured) this Shabbat.

I read this week a beautiful idea from Rav Kook regarding the special nature of bread – the most staple item of our daily diets. 
Most blessings recited over food refer to God as the Creator. Thus we say: Borei pri ha-eitz (“Creator of fruits of the tree”), Borei pri ha-adamah (“Creator of fruits of the ground”), Borei pri ha-gefen (“Creator of fruits of the vine”), and so on. 

The blessing for bread, however, does not fit this pattern. Before eating bread, we say HaMotzi — “Who brings forth bread from the earth.” 

Why do we not acknowledge God as the Creator of bread, as we do with other blessings? 

The wording of this blessing appears the same as when God told Moses:

“You will know that I am the Eternal your God, Who brings you forth (HaMotzi) from under the subjugation of the Egyptians.” (Ex. 6:7)
Is there some connection between bread and the Exodus from Egypt?

The earth contains a wide variety of nutrients and elements. Through various processes, these elements are formed into foods suitable for human consumption. With regard to foods that are not essential for human life, we cannot say that these elements attain their ultimate purpose when they are transformed into food. They fulfilled certain functions while still in the ground. We cannot positively state that now, as a fruit or vegetable, they are more important for the functioning of the world. 

Bread, on the other hand, is the staff of life. Bread is necessary for our physical and mental development. “A child does not know how to call ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’ until eating grain” (Berachot 40b). Due to its importance in sustaining life, bread differs from other foods. The elements used to make bread have attained a significant role which they lacked while they were still buried inside the earth. 

The words of HaMotzi blessing — “Who brings forth bread from the earth” — reflect this aspect of bread. The act of ‘bringing out’ draws our attention to two stages: the elements’ preliminary state in the ground, and their final state as bread, suitable for supporting humanity. Other blessings focus on the original creation of fruits and vegetables. HaMotzi, on the other hand, stresses the value these elements have acquired by leaving the earth and becoming life-sustaining bread. 

What does this have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?

The elements which are used to make bread started as part of the overall environment (the earth), and were then separated for their special function. So too, the Jewish people started out as part of humanity. Their unique character and holiness were revealed when God took them out of Egypt. “I am the Eternal your God, Who brings you forth from under the subjugation of the Egyptians.” Like the blessing over bread, God’s declaration emphasises two contrasting qualities: the connection of the Jewish people to the rest of the world; and their separation from it, for the sake of their special mission.
I guess eating bread will never be quite the same!
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman

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