VA’ERA (Exodus, 6:2-9:35) — “Not So Loud, the Bread Can Hear You!”

Did you ever wonder why the Challah is covered with a cloth on Friday night? We set the table with two whole loaves of bread and a cup of wine for Kiddush. The bread is covered while Kiddush is recited over the wine. What is the significance of hiding the bread? 

One of the reasons for this custom is that on Shabbos, we depart from the usual order of blessings. Normally, when eating or drinking foods, we first recite the blessing over the food or beverage which is more significant. Bread is more important than wine. Therefore, we recite “Hamotzie,” the bread blessing, before “Borei P’ri Hagafen,” the wine blessing. 

Shabbos, however, is different. Since we recite the Kiddush before beginning the meal, we end up saying the wine blessing before the bread blessing. In order not to prevent the bread from being “embarrassed” by this deviation from protocol, we cover the Challah so it won’t “see” what’s going on. 

EMBARRASSED? BREAD?! Isn’t that strange? 

A similar question presents itself in this week’s Torah Portion. In this and next week’s Torah readings, we will read about the Ten Plagues. Some of the plagues were brought on through the actions of Moses, and some came through the actions of Aaron. The first plague was supposed to be brought by Moses, but ended up being done by Aaron: 

G-d told Moses to warn the Pharaoh, that a plague was coming. He told him to say, “I (meaning Moses) will strike the water of the Nile with the staff in my hand, and the water will turn to blood.” (Exodus, 7:14) 

When the time came to actually bring this plague, however, it was Aaron who did the hitting.  What led G-d to change His command and have Aaron strike the Nile instead of Moses? 

It seems that Moses had a conflict of interest. How could he be so ungrateful to the Nile, which had saved his life so many years before? After all, the Nile had been so kind as to float the basket containing the baby Moses into the saving arms of the daughter of the Pharaoh. How could he be so ungrateful as to turn the Nile to blood? Where was his appreciation? 

Excuse me? Appreciation? Are we really so concerned about the feelings of a river and a loaf of bread?! Why are we thanking bodies of water and hiding embarrassed Challahs? 

We humans cannot see the supernatural such as angels and G-d. Is the Torah telling us that we should also believe that inanimate objects are actually “living” and conscious beings with feelings and egos? 

I don’t think so. I believe that the Torah is giving us an important lesson in relationships. Does a river really expect to be thanked for courtesies rendered? No. Is it really possible to humiliate a mixture of flour, water, and yeast? No. So why do we pretend otherwise? 

Our concern for the Nile and the bread should carry over to our treatment of PEOPLE. Moses was not permitted to hit the Nile. We hide the Challah from the “discomfort” of having its blessing pre-empted by that of the wine. The truth is that the Nile and the Challah couldn’t care less. The point is to teach us how mindful we must be of the feelings of our fellow man.

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Imagine the scene. The Shabbos table is set. Everyone is hungry, and waiting to say Kiddush and begin the meal. Dad lifts the cup to say Kiddush… then he sees it…the Challah cover is missing. Dad gets annoyed: “Of all the…what’s the matter with you?!!” he bellows. “Can’t you remember a simple thing like a Challah cover?!!!!!” 

Stop. Think a second. Do you really want to lace into someone for making a mistake? Do you really want to embarrass your wife or son or daughter (OR YOURSELF!) by flying off the handle? Look at the lengths to which we go to protect the “self-esteem” of objects that have none! How much more so do we need to make sure to avoid hurting another person. 

Think of the Nile. It doesn’t need appreciation, but it gets it anyway. Think of the Challah. You don’t want to embarrass an inanimate object by saying Kiddush in front of an uncovered loaf. Doesn’t your wife deserve at least as much respect as a piece of bread? 

We teach ourselves to avoid presenting an “uncomfortable” situation to an object that doesn’t know the difference. We certainly need to do the same with a human being who does.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz 

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 

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 From the Archives  

“Abracadabra = MC2” (2010) 

“Show me a sign!” challenged the Pharaoh … Moses was prepared. He took his staff and threw it to the floor. The staff miraculously turned into a snake. Surely, this man was for real. 

The Pharaoh laughed in his face. “Do you think you can impress me with simple magic? Anything you can do, my magicians can do better!” 

Sure enough, the Egyptian sorcerers made their own sticks into snakes. “Are you trying to sell straw in Ofarayim?!” (The Egyptian equivalent of bringing coal to Newcastle or rabbis to Monsey. 🙂 ) This was Egypt, the magic capital of the world! … 

Do we believe in magic?!… 

Read more

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THIS is your Life!” (2009) 

Slaves aren’t real people.  They are chattel; they are property.  They can be bought and sold and bartered like animals…

Pharaoh felt the same way about his Israelites.  They were his possessions, to be utilized in the efficient production of bricks for his ambitious building projects.  He was free to do with them as he wanted. He could even kill their children and use their blood for medicinal purposes.  No one was going to take away his Jews… 

Well, almost no one.  Two Levites by the names of Moses and Aaron were making trouble.  The G-d of Israel, they explained, wanted Pharaoh to release the slaves.  Pharaoh had no interest in complying. 

 “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice to release Israel?  I don’t know G-d, nor will I let Israel go!”  (Exodus, 5:1-2) 

How could chattel have a G-d??  These sub-human life forms known as Hebrews couldn’t have a G-d!  Why should the great Pharaoh follow the dictates of someone who represents the fictional G-d of a primitive cult? 

Pharaoh obviously needed some convincing… 

Read more

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“Let the Pharaoh GO!” (2008) 

…Pharaoh took this god thing pretty seriously.  He even went to great efforts to convince his subjects that he was super-human.  Yes, they fed him the finest foods.  He had the most comfortable royal furniture.  This man who would be a god was a very material fellow.  Every creature comfort known to man was, no doubt, available in the palace.  With one exception… 

Can you picture the scene? 

“Good morning, Your Majesty!”

“Oh, Moses!  Is that you again?  What are you doing here?” 

“I need to speak with you, your Majesty.  Right away.” 

“Not now, Moses.  Come see me at the palace later.” 

“No, Your Majesty.  I really need to speak with you now…” 

“Uhm, not right now, Moses.  I’m kinda busy at the moment…” 

“Oh I’ll be quick, Your Majesty.  I just have to speak with you for a couple of minutes…” 

“FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES??!! I DON’T HAVE A COUPLE OF MINUTES!!!  PLEASE MOSES, GO AWAY!  NOW!  PLEASE!  … 

Read more

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 “Answering the Call of Puti” (2007) 

In listing the family lines of Moses and Aaron, the Torah tells us: 

Elazar, the son of Aaron, took one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife, and she bore to him Pinchas…  (Exodus, 6:25) 

Who was this Putiel?  It’s not at all clear.  Some commentaries say he was a well-known person in his day.  It seems from other commentaries that he didn’t exist at all; that he was a “composite.” 

The Talmud (Sotah 43a) indicates that the name “Putiel” is a reference to Joseph…As well, it is a reference to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro… 

What’s with the nicknames?  Why doesn’t the Torah simply tell us the man’s name?!!… 

Read more

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“Frog Beaters” (2006) 

Sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart. 

…  Our Sages tell us that the Plague of Frogs was a compound miracle.  The swarms of frogs started out with one big frog.  The Egyptians tried to kill it.  Every time they hit a frog, it produced more frogs.  Soon the entire country was inundated with frogs. 

Now let me ask you a simple question.  If a big frog walked into your house, you might try to kill it.  That I understand.  But tell me, if every time you hit it, it produced more frogs, what would you immediately stop doing? 

If the Egyptians saw that their efforts to get rid of the frogs were backfiring, why did they keep hitting the frogs?!… 

Yes, sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart… 

Read more.  

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“Sorry, PETA, Pig’s Feet Aren’t Kosher!” (2005) 

… Moses knew where Pharaoh was coming from.  He was an Egyptian king with Egyptian values.   He despised everything Moses stood for.  The very thought of an Israelite slaughtering a lamb in service of G-d was an anathema to everything he stood for.  But he was willing to compromise.  For now.  If keeping his slaves from leaving Egypt meant tolerating Jews eating lamb chops, he was willing to make the tradeoff.  For now. 

Sounds a little like PETA… 

Read more

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“Life Begins … Today!” (2004) 

… In the middle of a discussion of Moses’ “marching orders,” the Torah makes a statement that seems a bit incongruous: 

Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three years old, when they spoke with the Pharaoh.  (Exodus, 7:7) 

…  These men were in their eighties.  They were old!  What were they doing running around back and forth to the palace?  Couldn’t G-d find some younger men to take on this demanding task? … 

Read more.  

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“I Opened the Door…Where’s Eliyahu??” (2002) 

He comes to visit every year.  We pour a cup of wine in his honor, and then welcome his arrival through our open door. 

I refer, of course, to Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, our annual Seder guest… Actually, at the risk of bursting a very popular balloon … Elijah does NOT join us at each Seder… 

Read more.  

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“Not So Loud, the Bread Can Hear You!” (2001) 

…Imagine the scene.  The Shabbos table is set.  Everyone is hungry, and waiting to say Kiddush and begin the meal.  Dad lifts the cup to say Kiddush… then he sees it…the Challah cover is missing. Dad gets annoyed: “Of all the…what’s the matter with you?!!” he bellows.  “Can’t you remember a simple thing like a Challah cover?!!!!!”… 

Read more.  

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 25, 2001 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  

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