Lechem Mishneh – the Holiness of the Meal
In Talmud this semester we have been learning about the delineation of sacred time. How do we mark when one segment of time ends and another begins? What factors alert us to this change in time happening? I have been surprised to learn how central food is to this process of transitioning between one type of time and another. For example, in our most recent sugya (section) in Pesachim we read of the discussion between the sages about whether kiddush (the blessing over the wine that marks the start of sacred time, including Shabbat and holidays) needs to be in makom seudah (the place of the meal). As the Talmud states “ain Kiddush ele bimkom seudah,” kiddush can only be made in the place where the meal will happen. As we discussed in class, while kiddush was used to bring in Shabbat – perhaps in the way we used candles today to mark the end of the work week and the start of sacred time – it wasn’t weighty enough on its own and needed to be paired with the meal in order to “count.”
It is interesting, then, to explore the connection between manna and Shabbat that we find in the Exodus narrative. Here, food, in this case manna, is used as a way of teaching the Israelites what Shababat is and how to keep it. The manna doesn’t come on Shabbat, thereby enforcing the rule that work, here gathering of food, isn’t to be done on this holy day. This particular food becomes intimately connected to the Israelite’s early experiences of Shabbat. It teaches religious principles that could perhaps be intellectual and difficult to grasp such – the spiritual nature of rest and the need to have one day a week where we accept the world exactly as it is – through a very tangible and physical means.
The connection grows even stronger when thinking about the link between lechem mishneh (the custom of having two loves of challah for Shabbat) and the Israelites experience in the desert of having a double portion of manna fall before Shabbat. Perhaps today, still on the road to redemption, we can continue to learn from the manna. Just as God once provided for us on Shabbat, we must now provide for ourselves, our families and our communities. Rather than being given an unknown angelic substance (manna) to sustain us, we have become co-creators with Gd. Today, we must take the bounty provided to us by the natural world and add our own recipes, spices, family history, and love to become active partners in the act of making the Shabbat meal. Now when I sing Shalom Aleichem around the Shabbat table I will imagine the angels smiling on as they behold the feast we have created, derived from the original lechem avirim (manna) during those formative years in the desert.