The Showbread

April 25, 2021

3 min read


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

Vayikra, 24:10: The son of an Israelite woman went out – and he was the son of an Egyptian man – among the Children of Israel; they fought in the camp, the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man.
Rashi, 24:10, Dh: Veyatsa:…Rebbe Berachiah says that he went out from the previous section [about the showbread], he mocked and said, ‘on the seventh day he will arrange it’ – it is the way of the King to eat hot bread every day, [and this is] cold bread of nine days?!’

The incident of the blasphemer begins with the enigmatic statement that he ‘went out’, but it is unclear from where he went out. Rashi cites several interpretations that address the question, “from where did he go out?” One explanation, based on Chazal, is that “he went out from the above quoted passage”, meaning, the immediately preceding section in the Torah. This discussed the Showbread (lechem hapanim, literally translated as the bread of the face) which would be placed on the Table in the Tabernacle on Erev Shabbat and remain there for several days. The blasphemer scoffed at this state of affairs, arguing that it is totally inappropriate to give a King cold, old bread, and all the more so it is wrong to leave the Showbread on the Tabernacle for so long. As a result of this argument, he then proceeded to blaspheme.

The Imrei Emet asks: The Gemara relates at the end of Chagiga that a miracle occurred with the Showbread: It was placed on the table warm, and it remained warm and fresh the whole week. The Gemara further states that when the people came to Jerusalem for the Three foot festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, they were about to return home after spending a whole week in Jerusalem, the Priests would pick up the table and show the pilgrims the table with the Showbread and say, “See how dear you are before the Omnipresent – He makes a miracle that the bread stays hot (and fresh) for an entire week.” Accordingly, what was the claim of the blasphemer – this was not stale bread at all— it was fresh, piping-hot bread, as if it was straight out of the oven?

The Imrei Emet1 answers with a homiletical interpretation that the nature of the Showbread was alluded to in its name – literally it means ‘bread of the face’. He cites the verse in Proverbs that tells us, “As water reflects a face back to a face, so too one’s heart is reflected back to him by another2.” This means that the way a person sees other people, will be reflected back onto him, so that if, for example, one sees his fellow in a positive light, then his fellow will also see him that way, and if he will see his fellow through a negative lens, then that will be reflected back onto him and his fellow will also see him negatively.

The Imrei Emet suggests that the Showbread was so called, because it too served as a mirror to the person looking at it. The way someone looked at it, is the way it was. So that when a normal person looked at the Showbread at the end of the Three Foot Festivals and saw that it was piping hot, he would see it in a positive way and see God’s great kindness to us, and how precious we are in his eyes, because He keeps the bread fresh and hot. However, when someone who had an agenda or a jaundiced eye with a negative attitude to everything, looked at the Showbread he actually saw cold, stale bread. The blasphemer was such a person, and so when he saw the Showbread he filtered through his negative outlook and saw cold, stale bread, hence his outrage and using such bread in the Tabernacle. This led to him gravely sinning by blaspheming.

This is a lesson that is relevant throughout one’s life. Everything he sees will be filtered through his attitude and mindset – a positive person will view everything through an optimistic and upbeat lens which will inevitably influence how he acts in myriad situations. The negative person will see everything in a negative, and downbeat light, which will likewise have a deleterious effect on how he behaves. How does one ensure that he becomes a positive person with all its benefits? By observing the laws and spirit of the laws of the Torah properly, then he will certainly become the positive person. This includes the laws of guarding one’s speech and judging favorably. One can only properly observe these Mitzvot by being the kind of person who sees people and the world in a positive fashion. May we all merit to learn from the blasphemer how not to view the world.

  1. Cited by Rav Yissachar Frand, shlit’a.
  2. Mishlei, 27:19.
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