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Lechem Hapanim / Showbread

At the end of this week’s Torah portion we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us: that they “happened” upon us on the way, they attacked our “tail,” – our rear, where we were weakest.

Immediately preceding this paragraph is the commandment to be exacting in our measures (Devarim 25,13), that our weight and volume measures should be accurate so as not to cheat anyone.

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During the writing of my sefer, Meir Panim, a large proportion of the work involved analyzing gematriyot. The interesting thing is that in many of the gematriyot associated with the Lechem Hapanim, references to Amalek kept popping up, indicating some connection between the two. In this article I will explain what this connection is, but first a short introduction.

Amalek never just “happened” upon us when we left Egypt. The commentaries say that they traveled great distances with the express intent of ambushing us. Amalek had a generations-old “Sicilian” blood vendetta against Am Yisrael. The mother of Amalek, Timna, had tried repeatedly to become part of Am Yisrael, trying to marry Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but they all rejected her in turn. In a desperate, last-ditch effort to have some “connection” with the bloodline of the avot, she became a concubine of Elifaz, son of Eisav, and from this union, Amalek was born.

Timna’s intense resentment born of rejection, combined with the unbridled hatred Eisav bore toward Yaakov, were all transmitted to Amalek, who was born into a family of hate. This hatred simmered for generations until Am Yisrael, the children of Yaakov, left Egypt. At that juncture, Amalek consulted with the prophet Bilam to find a way to cause Am Yisrael the greatest harm. Bilam’s advice was that Amalek stood no chance against the spiritually strong in Am Yisrael, but they did have a faint possibility to inflict damage on those in Am Yisrael who were spiritually weak (Refidim is derived from the root of the word rafui, meaning weak).

We read about Moshe’s war with Amalek in Beshalach. It was an extremely odd war. To win this battle, Moshe Rabbeinu had to keep his hands raised upwards. When his hands were raised, Am Yisrael were victorious; when they tired and were lowered, Am Yisrael suffered losses. Aharon and Hur helped support Moshe’s hands until Yehoshua had finally defeated Amalek.

What is the whole issue with the hands? When Moshe fought against Sichon and Og, there was no raising of hands; it was conventional warfare.

Even though Amalek was defeated in this battle they managed to inflict serious damage – they created doubt, and they “cooled the bathtub.” When Am Yisrael exited Egypt, they left behind them the world “superpower” crippled and defeated. Am Yisrael now had an aura of invincibility that struck fear into the hearts of all their enemies, except Amalek. Despite their defeat at Refidim, Amalek managed to cast doubt upon the invincibility of Am Yisrael.

In the Torah portion of Balak, Bilam calls Amalek “reishit goyim,” the first of nations. Normally the term reishit has a positive connotation, referring to Am Yisrael, the Torah, hafrashat challah, bikkurim, etc., which are all called reishit.” The commentaries say that Hashem created the world (b’reishit) because of all these things.

Could it be that Hashem created the world also because of Amalek? The commentaries say that whenever Hashem creates something in this world, He also creates its diametrically “opposite pole.” If Hashem created Am Yisrael, He had to also create the antithesis to Am Yisrael, which is Amalek. As long as Amalek exists, the name of Hashem cannot be “whole.” because Amalek’s war is essentially not against Am Yisrael but against Hashem Himself. This is why we are commanded to wipe out Amalek, so that once again Hashem’s name will be complete.

What does all this have to do with the Lechem Hapanim?

The Shulchan with the Lechem Hapanim stacked upon it is a permanent exhibit in the Heichal, along with the Menorah and the Mizbeach HaKetoret. All three of these belong to the category of “temidin,” rituals that are repeated at regular, fixed intervals. Among other things, the Shulchan and Lechem Hapanim serve as a constant reminder of who and what Amalek is and how we are meant to be the diametric opposite.

The Shulchan has kesavot, upright supports that resemble upstretched arms. The twelve loaves of Lechem Hapanim rest on 28 hollow half pipes that correspond to the 28 joints of the fingers in both hands – reflecting two hands stretched upwards. This is reminiscent of Moshe’s hands raised upward during the battle with Amalek.

The dimensions of the Shulchan table top are “whole” – two amot long by one amah wide, unlike those of the Aron HaBrit, which are “incomplete” – 2.5 amot long by 1.5 amot wide. Unlike the Aron, meant to symbolize that we can never “complete” the Torah – there is always more to learn – the Shulchan must necessarily be “complete” and whole. It symbolizes the integrity of our weight and volume measures in our business dealings, which must be whole and exact, and also that the name of Hashem must be whole and not fractured, as it is while Amalek exists.

Lechem Hapanim is miraculous food, reminiscent of the mon and not meant to be eaten out of gluttony. Only two incidents to the contrary are mentioned in the Gemara. Once, a Kohen complained (Pesachim 3b) how small his portion of Lechem Hapanim was (like the “tail” of a lizard), reminiscent of Amalek attacking us at our “tail.” Another time, a Kohen took more Lechem Hapanim than he was meant to and was called forever after “Ben Chamtzan” (Yoma 39a), which is the gematria of Amalek.

At its core, the korban Lechem Hapanim serves as an antidote to the yetzer hara. It is not surprising, therefore, that Amalek is hinted at in the various components of this korban, since Amalek is the representative of the yetzer hara in this world. Parshat Ki Tetzei, according to the Or HaChayim, is really about our battle with the yetzer hara.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Was there ever in history a case of an actual “ben sorer umoreh?” If so, when?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: How do we know if a prophet is a true or a false prophet? The “proof is in the pudding.” If his prophecies come true then he is a true prophet, if not, he is a false prophet. Also, if he incites Am Yisrael to worship idols, even though his signs may come about, it is forbidden to listen to him.

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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.