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Lessons of the Lechem Hapanim

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Jan 5, 2012

In this week's parsha, the Torah describes the shulchan, the table on which the special show bread was placed. The midrash[i] and other sources point out that the shulchan is the symbol of material wealth. Based on this approach, Rav Hirsch[ii] develops the idea that various details of the lechem hapanim symbolize the proper use of wealth according to the Torah's approach.

First of all, he discusses the shape of the lechem hapanim. The gemara (Menachos 94b) describes in detail the shape of the lechem hapanim. There was a flat base, and the two ends of the bread were turned upwards. It looked like there were two small walls extending upwards from each end of the base of the lechem hapanim. The length of these two walls together either equaled or almost equaled (that is a machlokes) the length of the base. What is the symbolism? Rav Hirsch explains that it looks like each of the loaves of the lechem hapanim is, in a sense, holding up the loaf above it. “The shape made each loaf serve the purpose of bearing the next loaf.” This teaches that if a person has financial success, he should use his success to help someone else. This is one message of the lechem hapanim. Use your wealth to help support and serve others as well. Give tzedakah.

How much flour was used in the lechem hapanim? The Torah describes in Vayikra (perek 24) that each loaf was made from two esronim of flour. Now we know from Parshas Beshalach[iii] that one isaron of flour equals the daily requirement of food for one person. Rav Hirsch points out that it is very striking that the volume of each loaf is exactly the measurement of the amount of food for two people- a double portion. Again, the symbolism is that one is supposed to use his wealth to also help others.

Rav Hirsch further quotes from Chazal that the lechem hapanim were baked in pairs, “ne'efos shtayim shtayim.” And, we know they were not only baked in pairs, they were also arranged in two equal stacks, side by side; they were stacked in pairs. Again the symbolism is that one should be using his own wealth to help his partner, to help somebody else (i.e., give tzeddakah). So, Rav Hirsch concludes, “so that in material, in shape, in the preparation, and in the set out, the character of brotherliness was distinctly impressed.” In other words, the idea of using one’s own wealth to help others. This is a beautiful symbolism developed by Rav Hirsch.

When the mizbeach was built, there were kranot, horns, at the four corners of the mizbeach. These extended upwards, beyond the floor of the mizbeach itself. Rav Hirsch explains[iv] that the symbolism of the kranot is that the purpose of the mizbeach is to strive upwards towards Hashem. We should use the mizbeach as a base to strive upwards, reaching up towards Hashem. Rav Hirsch quotes the gemara (Menachos 96a) that the lechem hapanim were shaped in a way that they also had kranot. It is difficult to picture this, but the gemara explains that somehow there were corners which extended upwards from the lechem hapanim. Rav Hirsch explains[v] that this teaches us that Jewish wealth is supposed to be directed to Hashem. We should use our wealth for furthering performance of mitzvos. And Rav Hirsch explains that if we put these two ideas together, then, “directing one's wealth to Hashem is, again, only to be achieved by using it for the support of one's fellow men.” In other words, one symbolism is we have to use our wealth to help others, we have to give tzeddakah. Another symbolism within the same lechem hapanim is that our wealth should be directed towards Hashem. The message is that the primary way we can direct our wealth towards Hashem is by using it to help others.

For anyone who is zocheh to have wealth beyond his basic needs, these ideas of Rav Hirsch are very important. We have to use our material wealth for mitzvos, tzedakah, and helping others. This is one major message of the shulchan and the lechem hapanim.


[i] Shmos Rabbah 34,2


[ii] Shmos p. 444-450


[iii] See perek 16, pesukim 16 and 36.


[iv] See Rav Hirsch here and further in Shmos on p.501.


[v] For further discussion, see the Collected Writings of Rav Hirsch Vol. 3 p.202-203. The bottom of "each loaf formed a base one inch wide; its walls slanting outward and up toward the loaf resting directly above".  So it looked like each of the lower loaves was, in a sense, holding up and supporting the loaf above it. Rav Hirsch explains that the symbolism is that the proper use of wealth in Torah Judaism is to help others. If a person is fortunate to have extra money, he should use it to help and support others, and this is why the lechem hapanim were shaped in this way. "Clearly, here we have the basic condition for all prosperity: brotherly devotion…, with each individual acquiring and possessing wealth for the sake of his fellow man no less than for his own sake….”




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