Posts Tagged 'Bread'

Harari Revisited: On Baking and Liberation

The Men of the Great Assembly said three things:

Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples and make a fence around the Torah.(Avot 1:1)

What does it mean to create a fence around the Torah? I was thinking about this in the context of all of the laborious preparations and limitations that we observe on the holiday or Passover. In the Torah we read:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you. You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a citizen of the country. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread. ( Exodus 12:15-20)

There seems to be a choice between cutting ourselves off from leavened bread or cutting ourselves off from the nation. To preserve our connection it makes sense to be extra stringent and put up fences.

This yearly activity of getting on the Atkins diet makes me rethink my relationship with wheat. Yes bread is the staff of life, but it is also part of my weight challenge. A few years ago I was thinking about our relationship with wheat while reading Yuval Noah Harari‘s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century. There Harari explores our relationship with wheat. On this he writes:

The body of Homo sapiens had not evolved for such tasks. It was adapted to climbing apple trees and running after gazelles, not to clearing rocks and carrying water buckets. Human spines, knees, necks and arches paid the price. Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture brought about a plethora of ailments, such as slipped discs, arthritis and hernias. Moreover, the new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields. This completely changed their way of life. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word ‘domesticate’ comes from the Latin domus, which means ‘house’. Who’s the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It’s the Sapiens. (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)

I share this image to help us reexamine the taste of Matzah on Passover. Is this the image of liberation? On Passover we are acutely aware of the fence around the Torah. But, every time I look at a fence, a door, or a gate I ask myself, what are we keeping out and what are we keeping in. Maybe the whole process of removing leaven products from our domiciles is to liberate us from the slavery of wheat.  There is no going back to the hunter gatherer lifestyles, but at least we get to recline at the Seder, stretch out our backs, and reevaluate our relationship with wheat once a year.

The Historical Cooking Project : Ancient Egyptian Bread, by Miguel Esquirol  Rios

Recently I shared this idea with my friend Rabbi Steve Greenberg. He responded that one year he was with Rabbi Sperber for Passover. There he learned that in the ancient world Egypt was the source for luxury  baking and yeast. Bakery skill and ingenuity was born in service of the wealthy class of Egyptian society. If this is true, this disconnection from wheat might be part of a larger plan to depose despots who use their power to centralize control. And another good reason to cut out carbs. 

original post of Harari

 

 

Spiral in History: Bread and Toldot

In Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Esav’s sale of the birthright to Yaakov for lentil stew. there we read:

And Yaakov gave Esav bread and a stew of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esav despised the birthright. ( Genesis 25:34)

It foreshadows how Yaakov stole the blessing from Esav by giving a wonderful lunch to Yitzhak. It is notable in both situations that Esav and Yitzhak asked for stew and deer and in both cases Yaakov served it with bread. While you might say that most cultures ancient and modern serve meals with bread, it is noteworthy that the text mentions it.

This image of this bread seems to come back with the sale of Yosef, Yaakov’s favorite.  As Yosef is in the pit he brothers sit around to determine what to do with him. There we read:

And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.( Genesis 37:25)

To Yaakov’s pain and suffering they tell him that Yosef was killed and they sell him into slavery. Ultimately this saves the brothers from famine. But it does not take long for Yaakov’s descendants to become slaves in Egypt. Eventually with the help of God and Moshe they leave Egypt.  In Passover we celebrate a yearly holiday without bread to remember our redemption from slavery and the rest of the use of bread in our history. History has a bitter-sweet spiral. What can we learn from this?

I was thinking about it this week when I reading this insightful article by Professor Jonathan Sarna on the whole ordeal with the RCA over women’s ordination.  He points out the irony of the RCA being excluded and now excluding others from Orthodoxy. Time will tell if the RCA made a good choice to draw a line or will this moment be the beginning of the end of their stronghold on Orthodoxy in America. Simply I do not think we can go on telling Orthodox female leadership that they do not have a seat at the table or to just eat cake.  As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”


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