Va’eira: Who Brings You Forth

Rabbi Chanan Morrison

The blessings recited over most foods refer to God as the Borei, the Creator: “Creator of fruits of the ground”, “Creator of fruits of the tree”, “Creator of fruits of the vine”, “Creator of types of food”, and so on.

But the blessing for bread — Hamotzi — doesn’t fit this pattern. Before eating bread, we say, “Who brings forth bread from the earth”. Why do we not acknowledge God as the Creator of bread, as we do with other blessings?

Actually, the wording of this blessing seems to be a quotation from God’s announcement to Moses:

“You will know that I am the Lord your God, Who brings you forth (‘Hamotzi’) from under the Egyptian subjugation.” (Ex. 6:7)

Is there some connection between bread and the Exodus from Egypt?

The earth contains a wide variety of nutrients and elements. Through various processes, these elements are formed into foods suitable for human consumption. With regard to foods that are not essential for human life, we cannot say that they attain their ultimate purpose when they are transformed into food. These basic elements performed certain functions while still in the ground. We cannot positively state that now, as a fruit or vegetable, they are more central to the functioning of the world.

Bread, on the other hand, is the ‘staff of life’. It is necessary for the physical and intellectual development of human beings. “A child will only call out ‘Father’, ‘Mother’ after eating grain.”  (Berachot 40) Due to its importance in sustaining human life, bread differs from other foods. The elements that make up bread have achieved a significant role which they lacked while still inside the earth.

The Hamotzi blessing reflects this aspect of bread. “Who brings forth bread from the earth.” The act of ‘bringing out’ draws our attention to two points: the preliminary state of the elements in the ground, and their final state as bread, suitable for supporting life. Unlike other blessings, Hamotzi stresses the value these elements have acquired by leaving the general environment (the earth), and becoming life-sustaining bread.

How does this tie in with the Exodus from Egypt?

The basic components of bread began as part of the overall environment, and were then separated for their special purpose. So too, the Jewish people started out as part of the human race. Their unique character and potential holiness were developed and revealed as God brought them out from the land of Egypt. “I am God your Lord, Who brings you forth from under the Egyptian subjugation.”  Like the blessing over bread, God’s declaration emphasizes two contrasting aspects: the connection of the Jewish people to the rest of the world; and their separation from it, for the sake of their special mission.

(adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, p. 286)

Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

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