What is the quintessential Jewish food that we see on every Shabbos and Yom Tov table? That’s right, Challah! Shabbos without Challah just wouldn’t be Shabbos and everyone knows that no one makes a better challah than my wife Cheryl.
This Shabbos the Torah (Lev. 24:5-10) speaks about Challah, the Lechem Hapanim (the Showbread) the 12 Challah loaves that were taken each week and placed on a special table in the Mishkan and later in the Holy Temple and then replaced with fresh loaves the next week. The Talmud (Menachot 29a) tells us that the 12 loaves, when it was taken off the altar and given to the Kohanim to eat, were still as fresh as when they were 1st placed there. This is listed as one of the miracles of Holy Temple.
There is a challah miracle today that, form my point of view, is just as wondrous. Whenever a human being takes bread in his hands and, before eating it, pauses to recite a blessing—the same Hamotzi that he or she has recited ever since childhood…the very same Hamotzi that his or her parents and grandparents and ancestors recited when they partook of bread …whenever a person looks at a piece of bread, the likes of which he or she has seen a thousand times before, and nevertheless responds with wonder and appreciation and awe…whenever a person says the words of Hamotzi and they are not stale on his lips…this too, for me, is a wonder.
As you know, my book, Dancing with Gd: How to Connect with Gd Every Time You Pray, is about to be published. Recently I came across a book with a similar name by a colleague whose work I admire, Rabbi Wayne Dosick, called, Dancing with Gd: Everyday Steps to Jewish Spiritual Renewal. In it he had a chapter that caught my eye, “Five Seconds a Day that Can Change Your Life.”
Imagine, there is something you can do every day that takes only 5 seconds and it can change your life! What is it that Rabbi Dosick recommends we do? Each night before dinner, recite the traditional b’rachah, Hamotzi, before we eat. It’s only 10 words and most of us know it by heart: Baruch Atah Hashem, Elokeynu Melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, “Blessed are You, Hashem our Gd, King of the universe, who brings bread forth from the earth.” That’s it. 10 words that are easily recited in 5 seconds. And if you’re not having bread that meal, make a Shehakol or other appropriate blessing. It takes the same 5 seconds to say. (The Shehakol blessing: Baruch Atah Hashem, Elokeynu Melech haolam, Shehakol nih’yeh bidvaro, “Blessed are You, Hashem our Gd, King of the universe, through Whose word everything came to be.”)
When you say these simple 10 words (or 9 words for the Shehakol blessing) in the moment before you eat, many wondrous things happen all at once. And if you stay aware of the multidimensional power of these 10 words, you will soon begin to see how better your life can be. How? Rabbi Dosick enumerates 5 ways:
1. When you say Hamotzi, if you’re a man, put on a kipa. If you’re a woman you don’t have to, but you can. When you put on a kipa, you automatically identify yourself as a Jew, linking yourself with generations of Jews who wore this Jewish uniform while eating…and you recognize your connection to every other Jew throughout the world today who wears the same kind of kipa to recite the same prayer.
You can keep your kipot in a kitchen drawer, always nearby and ready for any member of the family and guests. As with any uniform or piece of equipment, it’s best to have your own special, favorite kipa. Over time, it becomes a part of you, an extension of your identity and your being.
2. When you say Hamotzi, you speak 10 words of Hebrew. Hebrew, the holy language, has an inherent magic that turns mere words into powerful incantations. If you only recite these 10 words of Hebrew a day—I recommend that you do at least 6 more reciting the Shema Yisrael—you not only link yourself to the ages by speaking the Jewish holy language and attuning to Jewish sounds and rhythms, but you actually invoke Gd’s presence and celebrate Gd’s manifestation in your life.
3. When you say Hamotzi, you affirm your humanity. Animals take any food that’s in front of them and stuff it into their mouths. We human beings have the ability to exercise self-control and self-discipline. We can choose the food we eat whether kosher or treyf and we can choose when and how to eat it. Even though we may be starving, we have the holy power to pause for 5 seconds to say Hamotzi.
4. When you say Hamotzi, you acknowledge the power of Gd and express gratitude for His many gifts. We human beings share in the process of creation by planting the seeds, harvesting the crop, grinding the flour and baking the bread, but it is Gd, and Gd alone, who is the spark, the source, of creation, who gives life to the wheat and to the apples and to all the ingredients in a hot fudge sundae. In our highly scientific and technological world, where some seem to think that all the power is in our hands, it’s good to spend 5 seconds a day remembering our real place on the cosmic totem pole. It is good to be able to say, “Thank You, Gd, for this food that you have provide me, that is going to nourish and sustain me. I gratefully acknowledge You as the source and the Creator of all that is in the universe, and I thank You for all Your goodness toward me.”
5. When you say Hamotzi, you can bring your family closer together. When you eat together with your family make a rule that no one may say Hamotzi or start to eat until everyone is seated at the table. This means that no family member is the servant, still running between stove and table, while the others are already eating.
It also means that for at least 5 seconds a day you can be linked together in common purpose. Each of us is so busy, hurrying off to get to a meeting or a game or back to work. But for those magical 5 seconds, you and the members of your family sitting around that table are bound together with Gd.
If the Hamotzi mitzvah were offered as a business deal, you’d grab it before the ink would dry on the contract. Your investment? 10 words recited in 5 seconds a day. Your return? It’s a link to the Jews of the generations and to every Jew in the world today; the holy Jewish language on your lips; a daily reminder of your humanity; a daily expression of gratitude to Gd; and renewed family closeness.
What a marvelous return for such a small and simple investment! It can fill our hearts with happiness, enrich our spirits, and ennoble our souls. So I ask you now to commit to it while it’s still fresh in your mind. Say Hamotzi tonight, tomorrow night, every night. Again, if you’re not eating bread say the Shehakol bracha or any blessing appropriate for the food you’re eating. Add this easy, simple mitzvah to your daily routine, ingrain it as a habit, adopt it as a ritual, and in 5 seconds a day you can change your life. But whatever you decide, be sure not to forget to take 5 seconds at Kiddush and make a Hamotzi before you eat. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis