Photo Credit: showbreadinstitute.org

At the end of Bamidbar we read about the family of Kehat and their task of carrying the keilim of the Mishkan, namely, the aron, the shulchan, the menorah, the mizbeach haketoret, and the mizbeach ha’olah. Kehat had the toughest job in the Mishkan – they had to carry everything by hand (unlike Gershon and Merari, who used wagons). Also, carrying the aron was a hazardous operation and if not performed correctly could result in death.

Since I am the “Lechem Hapanim guy” [see below], it is obvious that I wish to discuss the way the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim was transported in the Midbar and at the same time try to link it in with Shavuot.

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There is a dispute in Menachot 95a, whether the lechem hapanim was nifsal (became unfit) during the transportation in the Midbar or not. We know that the lechem hapanim, once it was arranged on the shulchan in the heichal, was not allowed to leave the azara. It had to be eaten by the Kohanim the following Shabbat inside the azara. If the shulchan with the lechem hapanim is transported, it is removed from the ohel moed/azara, and by all accounts should be nifsal!

The conclusion of the dispute between R’ Yochanan and R’ Yehoshua is that as long as the lechem hapanim is arranged on the shulchan, even if it is removed from the ohel mo’ed, it is not nifsal while transporting. They learn this from a verse in our parsha (Bamidbar 4, 7) – that the bread must be “on” the shulchan – even during transportation.

The above verse and the one following it describe the procedure of transporting the shulchan.

You spread a tchelet cloth over the shulchan, upon which you load all the keilim of the shulchan – baking pans, second set of levonah bowls, pipes (placed under each loaf), and uprights (on the sides of the stacks), and the lechem hapanim. This is all then covered by the tchelet cloth, followed by a tola’at shani (red) cloth and finally by a covering of tachash skin. The poles are inserted in the rings attached to the legs and the shulchan is lifted and transported.

It is unclear exactly where everything goes on the shulchan. When the two stacks of breads and two bowls of levonah are arranged on it, there is no place for anything else, let alone baking pans, bowls, pipes, etc. The opinions of both the Ramban (on the above passuk) and Rabbeinu Bachyei (Shemot 25, 24) are that the lechem hapanim is arranged on the shulchan directly (not separated by any cloth) – exactly the way it is displayed in the heichal, with the uprights alongside the stacks, the pipes under the loaves and the two bowls of levonah in the center of the shulchan between the stacks. This is all covered with the tchelet cloth and then all the keilim are placed on top of the breads and are then covered by the tola’at shani cloth and the tachash cover.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong!

In Machon Lechem Hapanim, we try to understand how everything works in reality, not just theory. We bake the actual loaves of lechem hapanim, we arrange them on the shulchan, we simulate switching them, etc. We tried to load the keilim on top of the breads and hit a snag.

How many keilim actually were there? In the pasuk it doesn’t sound like much – pans, bowls, pipes, uprights. How many pans were there? There were sixteen pans! Lechem hapanim was baked two loaves at a time in the oven, so you need two pans plus a second set of two for the next batch when the first two come out of the oven – that makes four so far. You then need another twelve pans for the breads coming out of the oven – all twelve baked loaves were transferred from the baking pan to a perforated cooling pan where they remained on a marble table the entire Friday night before being placed on the shulchan. That makes a total of sixteen. These pans are all made from gold (ours are made from stainless steel – when we win the lottery we will make them out of real gold). The steel pans together weigh over 65 pounds. If they were gold, that would probably be 110 pounds. That’s just the pans. In addition to that, you have two gold bowls for the levonah being replaced on the shulchan and a second set of uprights (which is actually like a set of shelves) to move the new set of 12 breads into the heichal to replace the existing set. The total weight of the keilim mentioned is over 150 pounds!

When you place all this on top of the breads, the sheer weight of it breaks and damages the bread – and that is while everything is stationary, how much more so if everything is in motion! If even one corner of one loaf breaks, all twelve loaves are nifsal!

These are the kind of issues we grapple with, trying to come up with solutions that are practical and that correlate with the text and the commentaries. In this specific case, we are working on a theory that all the keilim were in fact placed on a shelf under the table resting on the misgeret (this and many other aspects of the korban lechem hapanim are described in my sefer, Meir Panim).

All the keilim in the kodesh have one thing in common – they are all covered with a tchelet cloth and a tachash covering – the shulchan, the menorah and the mizbeach haketoret. The only exception is the shulchan, which in addition has a tola’at shani cloth, and the question is why this is so.

Some, like the Ramban, explain that tola’at shani – a red (crimson/scarlet) color – is a symbol of royalty, and since the shulchan is a symbol of royalty (Malchut Beit David), it is covered thus. Tola’at shani also has another connotation – sin (as in Yishayahu 1, 18). In Meir Panim, I discuss the principle that the shulchan lechem hapanim was a tikkun for the sin of Adam and Chava who were seduced by the yetzer hara, and therefore it has to be covered by this red cloth.

The shtei halechem offering brought on Shavuot also has a link to the yetzer hara, in that it is baked chametz – to symbolize that the Torah, received on Shavuot, is an “antidote” to the yetzer hara.

We should all have a good Yom Tov, celebrate in the Torah and merit a year of fruitful learning and abundance.

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Eliezer Meir Saidel is Managing Director of Machon Lechem Hapanim www.machonlechemhapanim.org dedicated to researching the Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center www.jewishbakingcenter.com which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread.