Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Emor is one of my favorite parshiyot as it has the “recipe” for the Lechem Hapanim (Vayikra 24, 5). I say “recipe” in the loose sense of the word, because aside from the amount of flour (solet/semolina) – two isaron per loaf – no other details are given, other than the fact that the bread is baked (in an oven). The scarcity of detail, both in the psukim and in the Mishna, Gemara, etc., is because the family of Levi’im in the time of the 2nd Beit HaMikdash who prepared the Lechem Hapanim – Beit Garmu – refused to reveal their secret to the Chachamim (Yoma 38a). Subsequently, after the destruction of Bayit Sheini, the secret was lost.

Today I would like to give you a tiny glimpse into the fascinating world of modern investigative research into the Kodashim and the Mikdash, of which I am privileged to be an active participant.

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My romance with the Lechem Hapanim began seven years ago. By profession I am an artisan baker (what the Gemara calls a “nachtom”) and owner of a small family bakery. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would become a leading authority on the Lechem Hapanim, I would have thought you were crazy, but in retrospect, it was “bashert.” After botanical analysis of various types of grains, grinding techniques and chemical composition, research determined that the weight of one isaron of solet is 1965 grams (according to HaRav Chaim Na’eh). 1965 is my (English) year of birth. My bar-mitzvah parsha is Tzav, which deals with the Menachot. My Hebrew birthday is Purim, which is intricately connected with the Lechem Hapanim, something we learn from this week’s parsha. Towards the end of parshat Emor the Torah describes the “mo’adim,” and immediately following, the Menorah and the Lechem Hapanim. The Rokeach (Hilchot Purim, siman 240) asks “Why the proximity between these two seemingly unrelated topics?” His answer is that these are the hints in the Torah to the “additional mo’adim” – Chanukah and Purim.

Since the information in the sources is so scant, I had to approach my research from a different angle. Using baking science, cereal chemistry and skills from a former life as a software programmer, I decided to “reverse engineer” the Lechem Hapanim.

The first hurdle was determining the exact parameters of this loaf – shape, width, length and thickness. This initiated a three-year study of ancient, hand-written manuscripts of Rashi on masechet Menachot, which took me to exotic locations around the globe, such as the Vatican archives, the Etz Chaim Library in Amsterdam, The Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, amongst others. An integral part of this research also involved archeological finds of coins from the period of the second Beit HaMikdash. The conclusion of the study was astounding – the shapes depicted in Rashi in the Vilna Shas (Menachot 94b), upon which most modern Gemaras are based, are not accurate.

Once I had the parameters, the next task was to bake the bread in that shape, using the constraints of the sources – for example the amount of flour mentioned in this week’s parsha – two isaron. It soon became apparent that without some special technique, there was no way that the bread could possibly achieve the required dimensions. This began the second phase of the research, trying to reveal Beit Garmu’s secret – which I eventually did, with a lot of help from my colleagues, prominent researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Machon HaMikdash. The conclusion of this study was a mind blowing chiddush, that the Lechem Hapanim, although it was a matzo without any chametz, was an aerated bread with the thickness of a tefach (1 handbreadth), of which two thirds of its volume is air and only one third are the other ingredients mentioned in the sources.

Parallel to the technical, scientific research I discovered many realities that are not intuitively apparent, but when you dig deeper, you begin to truly appreciate. The incredible skill, brainpower, Ruach HaKodesh and righteousness of Beit Garmu and our Chachamim, like Rashi, who it appears, had an intellect to rival the computing power of modern day computers. As one revelation followed the next, the true spiritual essence and symbolism of the Lechem Hapanim began to emerge.

I am just one cog in an “army” of people who have devoted their lives to taking the Kodashim, an area of study that is not mainstream in most yeshivas and breathing life into it, turning it into a throbbing, vibrant reality. People like HaRav Yisrael Ariel and his son HaRav Azaria from Machon HaMikdash who have dedicated their lives to reproducing the keilim of the Mikdash, Professor Zohar Amar from Bar-Ilan University, a botanist and archeologist and his groundbreaking work researching ancient grains and the composition of the Ketoret, and many others. For we who are personally involved, it is tantamount to “living the Geulah,” watching it visibly unfold before our very eyes as we uncover block after building block in the whole that will eventually comprise Bayit Shlishi. The results of all this research are publicly available, online and in books on the various subjects. My research to date on the Lechem Hapanim is soon to appear in a sefer, Meir Panim that is currently in the publication process.

When we reach Olam Haba, one of the key questions we are asked is – “Did you ‘yearn’ for the Geulah?” It is insufficient to simply ‘yearn’ through prayer, although that is a large component. Especially in today’s generation, we have to take things to the next level and become an active participant in yearning for the Geulah, by arousing awareness of the reality of the Mikdash in our daily lives. Study and read whatever we can about it. Think about it constantly – “What would we be doing right now, this minute, if we had the Beit HaMikdash?” “How would we celebrate Shavuot if the Mikdash is rebuilt tomorrow?”

Not everyone is capable of conducting intensive research, but everyone can and should “make a switch” in their minds that the Mikdash and Geulah are not some ancient, forgotten thing. They are imminent and we should be investing much of our time and effort preparing ourselves for them.

Parshat Hashavua Trivia Question: Where were the two bowls of Levonah placed – on top of the two stacks of Lechem Hapanim or on the Shulchan itself between the two stacks?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Which one of the priestly garments of the Kohen had sha’atnez in? The Avnet, the belt, was 32 amot long (53 feet) and was wound round the waist of the Kohen, just below the armpits. It was woven from four threads – three made from wool dyed tchelet, argaman, tola’at shani and a 4th, white thread of pishtan (flax). It was only permissible to wear the Avnet while doing Avodah in the Mikdash, because the Mikdash is a “yetzer hara free” zone, where the plant kingdom (flax) and the animal kingdom (wool) all co-exist in harmony in the service of Hashem (Shimshon Refael Hirsch).

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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.