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    Three types of bread – Vayyiggash

    There is a verse in this week’s portion which reminds me of a caterer’s menu.

    Such menus often say, “Three types of fish”, “Three types of meat”, “Three types of cake”. What the sidra says seems to be “Three types of bread”.

    The context is the famine which sent Jacob’s children to Egypt in search of food. After a whole series of dramatic events, they discover that the Minister of Food is their own long-lost brother Joseph.

    What Joseph now does is to send them home to their (and his) father Jacob bearing bar, lechem umazon; one translation renders the words “corn, bread and victual” (Gen. 46:23), but the three words are almost synonyms, and it would be possible to translate them as “Three types of bread”.

    The first of the three Hebrew words is the only one, however, which definitely means grain. In the Bible, lechem sometimes means meat.

    Ibn Ezra defines mazon as “beans, peas, lentils, millet, spelt, figs, raisings and dates”. He does not agree that lechem in this context means meat, possibly because meat can go bad on a long journey. But on the other hand bread can also go mouldy.

    In some ways meat is an easy food to preserve, and it is likely that the ancient Egyptians knew how to use salt as a preservative.

    Writing about the problem of the three types of bread, the late Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz suggests (but doubts) that Ibn Ezra might have been a vegetarian who did not like the idea of people eating meat.

    He adds that if the Torah had wanted to talk of meat it would have done so explicitly, since the Joseph story unambiguously says that Joseph commanded his servants, “Kill the beasts and prepare the meat” (Gen. 43:16).

    The truth might well be that Joseph wanted Jacob to have ample supplies of bread and the ingredients for bread-making.

    There is a well-known idea that bread is the staff of life, and in Jewish tradition it is not a full meal without bread.

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