Bread Is More Than the Staff of Life – Ekev 5782

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

One of the premiere codifiers of the medieval period, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as the Ba’al Ha-Turim (1269–1343), sees in the wording of the Torah instructions on how to perform a Jewish ritual. The Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8) describes the Land of Israel as a land blessed with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and date honey. It is a verse comprising exactly ten Hebrew words. Similarly, the blessing recited before eating bread consists of exactly ten Hebrew words. Likewise, two verses in the Book of Psalms that speak of God’s beneficence, providing all his creatures with their sustenance (Psalm 104: and Psalm 145:) consists of exactly ten Hebrew words. These are too many similarities to be taken as mere coincidence.


The Ba’al Ha-Turim explains that the number ten connected with food justifies holding bread in one’s hands while saying the blessing before eating. Both hands, of course, include ten fingers. As he puts it: “He should place both his hands on the loaf because his hands have ten fingers.” Then he adds one more group of ten. “[Ten fingers] correlate to the ten [agricultural] laws associated with the making of bread: do not plow with an ox and an ass together, do not plant together two different species, leave gleanings to the poor, do not go back to collect what was forgotten during the harvest, leave the corners of the field to the poor, bring first fruits to the Temple, make a gift to the priests, give a tithe to the Levites, set a second tithe aside for yourself or for the poor, and give a portion of the dough to the priest.


All of these connections together, makes placing hands on bread before eating a ritual with a purpose. It is a reminder that food production cannot be detached from food sharing. It is a reminder of the gratitude we ought to have for possessing the land of Israel. It is a reminder of how thankful we should be to God for his care. It is a reminder of kindness that needs to be shown to animals as well as to people. And it is a recognition that life is made more fulfilling when we take on duties.


There is more to eating a sandwich than grabbing a quick bite. Think of symbolism in holding a piece of bread. It’s the yeast you can do.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter