By Bread Alone

“Why do you spend money on that which is not bread?...Eat that which is good and let your soul delight itself in its richness.”

Isaiah 55:2


It’s just about this time, mid-Passover, that we begin hankering for a nice piece of bread. The flatness of the matza begins to disappoint. And we should desire bread because it is one of the foundational foods of the Bible and was offered in the Temple as a gift to God. The word for bread in Hebrew “lekhem” is also used to refer to food generally, most likely because bread was foundational to the meal and eaten at every meal. At this time when we do not traditionally eat bread, we can spare a few moments to appreciate it upon its return.


The verse above in Isaiah is used in an unusual context by the food writer Jeffrey Steingarten in The Man Who Ate Everything. Opening a chapter on bread with the verse, Steingarten writes: “The world is divided into two camps: those who can live happily on bread alone and those who also need vegetables, meat, and dairy products. Isaiah and I fall into the first category. Bread is the only food I know that satisfies completely, all by itself. It comforts the body, charms the senses, gratifies the soul, and excites the mind. A little butter also helps.”


When we look throughout the Bible. We sense that God also agreed with Jeffrey Steingarten. Bread is regarded as a source of plenty, holiness and joy. When we abide by our covenantal relationship with God, God will provide us with bread:


Exodus 23:25- “And you shall serve the Lord your God and he shall bless your bread…”


Leviticus 21:22 – “He shall eat the bread of his God, of the most holy and of the holy.”


Ecclesiastes 9:7 - “Go your way. Eat your bread with joy…”


This relationship is one that we must pay forward, as discussed in another unusual and oft-quoted biblical verse about bread: “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give portions to seven, yes to eight,” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2). Many scholars understand this enigmatic verse about bread to refer to commerce in ships. Send many ships out to many ports to sell grain, and some will return with success. In other words, cast a wide net and some initiatives will be rewarded.


Others take a different view. This is not a verse about merchants. It is a verse about adversity. At a time of disaster, give out portions of bread liberally. It is natural to want to hoard resources in times of challenge, but if you cast your bread out, if you are generous with what you have, your generosity will be repaid in full. When you cast anything into running water, it will disappear quickly. You will lose control of it. Bread thrown into water absorbs liquid like a sponge and dissolves. The message becomes more clear. When you are generous, expect nothing in return. Yet sometimes your unexpected kindness will yield unexpected results. Your own portions will be multiplied. Perhaps this explains why the Talmud says that one should spend money liberally on holiday food because it will never be wasted and will always be recompensed by God (BT Betza 16a).


One of the gifts of having bread is the capacity to break it with others. Don’t keep a source of joy and holiness to yourself. Cast it out. It will come back. And if it does not come back, you will have the pleasure of pure giving. If you love bread – and you’re not on a low carb diet – share it. Last week in honor of Passover, we cast out our bread. When we re-stock, we can take stock of how we want to multiply this joy.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover