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Bread of Truth or Falsehood?

Rabbi Yosef Ben Porat (Shlita), head of Yeshiva “Ashrei Ha’Ish”, in his shiur (lecture) “Why do we not eat chametz (leaven) on Passover?” (2019) explains that matzo symbolizes truth while chametz (leaven) symbolizes falsehood.

Matzo bread includes elements that are totally visible to the naked eye. There is nothing hidden in matzo – it is a compound made from flour and water only, baked immediately after being kneaded. Its final form is flat, reflecting the volume of the original ingredients and its taste is that of the original ingredients, flour and water only. It is therefore a bread of truth.

Chametz (leavened) bread on the other hand , although having the identical ingredients to matzo, flour and water, is allowed to rest for a prolonged time (18 minutes or more) after kneading and before it is baked. Due to this delay, other foreign  elements  are introduced to the bread that change its form – it is filled with air bubbles and rises, and its taste – it is more sour. In other words the final form of the bread does not echo its base ingredients faithfully, like matzo, it “impersonates” something else entirely.  Therefore chametz (leavened) bread is not a bread of truth but rather of falsehood.

In Proverbs (12:19) it states “The lip of truth shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment”. In other words truth is eternal, while falsehood is temporary and fleeting. The world of truth is eternal and the world of falsehood temporary. Matzo is a bread of truth. Matzo keeps for an extended period of time, even years and does not go moldy and its taste remains as when it was first baked. Chametz (leavened) bread on the other hand goes modly after a few days and its taste changes.

Until here the words of Rabbi Ben Porat (Shlita).

If this is the case, the question arises regarding the Showbread. Is the Showbread a bread of truth or falsehood?

The Torah does not specifically stipulate if the Showbread is a matzo type bread or not.  “And thou shalt take ‘solet’ flour, and bake twelve loaves thereof,  two isaron measures shall be in one loaf” (Leviticus 24:5). The fact that the Showbread was a matzo, without leaven, we learn from a previous verse, regarding the Two Loaves offering. “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two isaron measures; they shall be of ‘solet’ flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits unto the L-rd  (Leviticus 23:17). Here the Torah specifically states that the Two Loaves must be baked with chametz (leaven), therefore the omission of this stipulation in the subsequent verse of the Showbread implies that the Showbread does not have chametz (leaven) and in fact is a matzo. This theory is supported in the Mishna (Menahot 5:1) “All the Meal Offerings are matzos, with the exception of the chametz (leaven) in the Thanksgiving Offering and in the Two Loaves Offering, which are chametz (leavened)".  Therefore the Showbread, one of the Meal Offerings, is by inference,  a matzo. Similarly we find in Maimonides Hilchot Temidin UMusafin (5:6) “How is the Showbread made …… and they are made into 12 matzo loaves”.

The Showbread however is not a regular flat, matzo type bread, as described by Rabbi Ben Porat (Shlita). In the Talmud, Tractate Pesachim (37a) it states “And how much is a thick matzo? R. Huna says 1 tefach (handbreadth), as we find with the Showbread”. Therefore the Showbread had the thickness of 1 handbreadth.

The commentator Kesef Mishna on this ruling of Maimonides (ibid.) enters into an in-depth discussion regarding the thickness of the Showbread and raises a question on Maimonides’ apparent stipulation that the thickness of the bread was seven finger widths high. He conducts an analysis of the base ingredients of the Showbread  and proves that a bread of that length and width with those ingredient quantities cannot surpass three quarters of a finger width, never mind seven finger widths, in thickness.  

The  assumption is that if, as is stated in Tractate Pesachim that the bread was 1 tefach (handbreadth – four fingers) thick and the base ingredients cannot fill a volume sufficient to result in a bread that thick, that the remaining volume must be filled with air. In other words, the Showbread is not a flat matzo loaf, but a “risen” loaf.

How do you get a matzo loaf to rise without the use of chametz (leaven)? Is it by manipulating the texture of the bread via the water content? Or by using alternative rising agents that are not chametz (leaven)? This is the topic of another article. What is obvious though is that the Showbread was a matzo, but a “risen” matzo.

How does this reconcile with what is described above about a flat matzo symbolizing truth and a “risen” loaf symbolizing falsehood. Is the Showbread a bread of truth or falsehood?

The answer is that the Showbread is neither, or more accurately, it is a little of both! It has elements of matzo – it is a non-chametz (unleavened) bread, but it is also a “risen” bread, full of air, with the thickness of a tefach (handbreadth).

Unlike the Menorah (Candelabra) in the inner sanctum of the Temple which symbolizes spiritual blessing, the Showbread and Table symbolize material blessing, a blessing of livelihood and wealth. Rabbi Abraham ben Jacob Sabo in his book Tzror Hamor (Parshat Terumah) states “And from the Table and the Showbread a reigning of blessing and a multitude of food and livelihood … and from there the blessing extends to all of Israel because a blessing cannot rest on nothing (it must rest on some tangible object). …. therefore He commanded us to perpetually place the Showbread on the Table and from there the blessing will extend to the Showbread and from there to all of Israel and all of their sustenance perpetually”.

In order to survive in this physical world, this temporary world of falsehood a person requires sustenance. The Heavenly Angels do not need food or drink to survive. In the Talmud, Tractate Yoma 75b it states in relation to what Moses ate in the forty days while receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai “He (Moses) ate ‘noble’ food, food of the Angels, thus says R. Akiva. When R. Yishmael heard this he said ‘go tell Akiva – you are wrong, for surely Angels do not eat bread?’ as it says ‘bread I did not eat, nor water did I drink’ (Deuteronomy 9:9)”.

On the one hand the Showbread symbolizes material abundance in this world and it is displayed on the Table that has legs resting on the earth, and is thus part of the physical world, the world of falsehood. Therefore the Showbread does have an element of the world of falsehood – it is a “risen” bread.

On the other hand the Showbread is not entirely of this world. Rabbi Moshe Odess (Shlita) in his book Bilvavi Mishkan Evne (page 223) states “It is Heavenly sustenance symbolizing material abundance ….. that perpetually descends to our physical world through the medium of the Temple”.  

The Table stands alongside the Menorah in the inner sanctum, which symbolizes a spiritual blessing, the light of the Torah. Together, the two convey the teaching “If there is no flour there is no Torah and if there is no Torah, there is no flour” (Tractate Avot 3:17). The Showbread also sits adjacent to two bowls of Frankincense which was burned on the altar. The Showbread therefore also has an element of the world of truth – it is a matzo, without chametz (leaven).

The world of truth is eternal while the world of falsehood is transient.  Although it was a “risen” bread, which theoretically should become moldy while resting on the Table for seven days until it was replaced (Tractate Yoma 38a), there was a miracle with the Showbread that it did not go moldy and it retained its fresh taste and also remained warm the entire week, as it was on the day it was baked.

Therefore the Showbread constitutes a bridge between the world of truth and the world of falsehood, reflected by the two stacks of bread on the Table and contains elements of both these worlds.

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