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When Was The Last Time You Made Bread?

Posted on 01/18/2013 @ 07:11 PM

When was the last time you made bread? No…REALLY made bread? Tilled and fertilized the field, planted, harvested, and threshed the wheat, and then ground and sifted the flour? As good as your best bread recipe might be, chances are you probably get your flour out of a bag like most of us do.

Just as we learned at Staff Conference that the birkat ha’mazon is particular moment of gratitude for our abundant food when so many people have so little, the prayer said over bread, the motzi (הַמּוֹצִיא in Hebrew), finds it origin in a Biblical text. Unlike the birkat ha’mazon, however, the motzi’s origin is a bit more complicated.

Psalm 104 describes the natural world as deliberate and harmonious, all deriving from God’s wisdom and intention. In verse 13-14 we read:

מִפְּרִי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ תִּשְׂבַּע הָאָרֶץ מַצְמִיחַ חָצִיר לַבְּהֵמָה וְעֵשֶׂב לַעֲבֹדַת הָאָדָם

לְהוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן-הָאָרֶץ

the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your work

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use

to bring forth bread from the earth

According to the author of this psalm, it is humans who bring forth food from the earth, not God! How then are we to explain the language found in the motzi?

מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ... …melekh ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

….Master of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Did the Rabbis intend to remove human beings from the process of bringing food to the table, positioning God as the ultimate Nourisher and Provider? If the beracha existed in isolation then it would seem like that. However, knowing the source for this blessing changes the meaning completely. By claiming that it is God who ultimately provides bread, those who say the blessing are given the opportunity to reflect on the entire process, even those aspects which are outside of human power and ingenuity. So much of traditional Jewish practice and thought insists on the partnership between God and humanity even in something so mundane-seeming as producing a loaf of bread.

A more enriched understanding of Jewish practice allows us to dig a little deeper and wake up our most commonplace rituals, turning them into moments of profound connection.

This Shabbat Message was cooked up by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub

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