What can you
say about a culture that uses the same root
(lamed, het, mem) for
(lehem, accent on the first syllable) and war, (milhama)?
(milhama) really come from the same root? It's a good question, and to
answer it one must invoke a third use of the root. It seems that
(laham) means not only "he did battle" and "he ate bread"
but also "he joined together."
Using this third meaning, Ludwig Koehler, in his 1953 Dictionary of
the Hebrew Old Testament, opines that our root originally had the
connotation of "to be closely packed together" and that that
meaning is the common denominator. In war, says Koehler, soldiers often
engage in hand-to-hand combat in close quarters. Voilà for war,
(milhama). Bread, he adds, suggesting perhaps that it is considered
highly nutritious, is "compact food." Voilà for bread,(lehem).
In a different way, medieval Hebrew grammarian Rabbi David Kimhi (the
RaDak) offers a metaphorical explanation for the coincidence of bread
and war in one root: War is called
(milhama) because "the sword eats up the belligerents on both
sides." The allusion here is quite likely to the Akedah (binding
of Isaac) story, in which Abraham's knife is called a
(ma'akhelet), from the word "to eat."
As interesting as these conjunctures may be, they do not begin to exhaust
the fascinating developments of the Hebrew word for bread,(lehem).
Adam is banished from the Garden of Eden with the malediction(be-ze'at
apekha tokhal lehem), "you will eat lehem by the sweat
of your brow." Clearly, since bread does not grow on trees (neither
on the Tree of Life nor on the Tree of Knowledge), lehem is used
here in a generic sense, to mean "food." From the blessing(ha-motsi
lehem min ha- arets), "who brings forth bread from the earth,"
it may be deduced that the root has both a specific and a generic meaning.
After reciting this blessing, one may eat a piece of bread and then partake
of a whole meal.
Our word is found in a number of biblical contexts, such as the(lehem
bikkurim), "bread of first fruits" brought to the Temple
on Shavu'ot, and the(lehem
atslut) "bread of laziness," that the proverbial Woman of
Valor does not eat. The expression describing the double portion of manna
provided on Fridays for the Israelites in the desert,
(lehem mishneh), accounts for the custom of putting two loaves
of hallah on the Shabbat and festival table. It also serves as
a pretext for an interesting rabbinic explanation for the use of hallah
in the first place. According to Rashi,
(mishneh), from the word meaning "two," can also be read
"different." Thus, we eat hallah because its taste and
smell are different from those of ordinary, week-day bread.
Not surprisingly, bread is a central theme in Jewish folk wisdom. The
Book of Numbers reminds us that
(lo al ha-lehem levaddo yihyeh ha-adam), "Man does not live
on bread alone." The Book of Ecclesiastes observes:
(lo la-hakhamim lehem), loosely translated, "Don't expect to
get rich if you're planning on being a scholar." The Talmud provides
a nutritionist's slant when it observes that while honey is an appropriate
food for infants and oil is good for the elderly, the best food for youths
Perhaps the greatest piece of Jewish wisdom related to bread is also the
most poetic. The advice: (shelah
lahmekha al penei ha-mayim), "Cast your bread upon the waters."
If you perform good deeds randomly, there's a good chance you'll be rewarded,
or see positive results. Jewish folk hero Bontshe the Silent knew what
he was talking about when he taught us that a nice, warm roll
every morning wouldn't be a bad reward at
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