Let them eat bread!

It may be difficult to imagine a meal without bread, but when redemption comes, our diet may not require it.

September 26, 2005 19:24

It may be difficult to imagine enjoying a good meal without bread, but when the time of redemption comes, our diet may not require it. In fact, most other foods, in the future, may not be eaten as well. In the end of days, not only will the words of the prophet Micah be fulfilled - that everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree - but sustenance may be supplied exclusively from grapes, figs and other fruits. For just a moment, recall what the world was like during the sixth day of creation, prior to the first sin, for this is the condition to which the world will one day return. Adam is created and placed in the Garden of Eden, instructed only "to work it and watch over it." After Adam is informed of these basic agronomic responsibilities, God tells him he is free to eat from all the garden's fruit trees, seemingly as wages for taking care of them, except the Tree of Knowledge. But immediately after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he was told that, as punishment, he would now have to "eat grass of the field" and "by the sweat of your brow eat bread." In contrast to the mild workload of an orchard supervisor, he would be forced to perform the many tasks associated with growing comestible grasses such as wheat and turning them into loaves, pitas, tortillas or cakes. Botanically, the plants which sustain the world's population - wheat, rice, corn, oats and barley - are grasses, members of the same plant family as the grasses that grow in a meadow, a lawn or in the cracks of a sidewalk. There are two major types of lawn grasses: cool season and warm season. Cool season grasses, such as perennial rye, tall fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass, are evergreen but require lots of water during the summer or they will die. Warm season or tropical grasses, which go dormant where the winter gets cold, include Bermuda and Kikuyu types, known for their drought tolerance. Tropical grasses have deep, rhizomatous roots and stolons or runners which, as they grow out horizontally, put down roots at each joint that touches the ground. In our dry climate, lawns nearly always consist of tropical grasses. The idea of turning grass into bread, along with the sweat required in that laborious process, is introduced after Adam sins. Thus, from the beginning of time, grass - esev in Hebrew - is stigmatized as "sinful" vegetation, growth which represents human frailty. "I wither like grass," the Psalmist sighs. In Psalm 92, the wicked are compared to grass. They prosper quickly, with little effort. Fools are confused by the success of evil people, not understanding that God rewards the wicked only in this world, banishing their souls from His presence in the next. By contrast, the tzadik is compared to a date palm, a tree which grows slowly and does not produce fruit for many years but whose ultimate beauty and sweet, sustaining presence is without equal. One passage from the second paragraph of the Shema prayer suggests the potential harmfulness of grass. As part of the reward for loving God with all your heart and soul, God says, "I will give grass in your field for your animal and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful that you are not overcome by temptation, turn away, and worship and bow down to other gods" (Deuteronomy 11:15-16). Initially, the topics in these verses seem disconnected. First, what does your animal eating grass have to do with your eating and being satisfied? And second, how are your animal and your satiation connected to idol worship? These topics may be connected by an understanding of what "your animal" - behemtecha in Hebrew - is all about. According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a Jew has both a Godly soul and an animal soul. The animal soul is neither good nor bad since it provides the raw passion and enthusiasm that drive a person through life. The challenge is to channel this passion in the right direction. Improperly directed, the animal soul's passions become lusts. When the Shema warns about succumbing to temptation and idol worship, it is addressing the inner animal in the previous verse. A Jew's Godly soul is not capable of sinning but there must be constant vigilance to control the animal which, feeding on nourishing but potentially sinful grass, lurks within. Although we have been punished, since Adam, by having to make cereal grasses the mainstay of our diet, we have the power of elevating those grasses by the blessings that surround their consumption. The longest devotional parts of the day, aside from the daily prayers, are the series of blessings recited after eating bread. These blessings are full of references to our redemption in the Land of Israel when, it would appear, we will dispose of our baking ovens and resume the fruitarian ways of Adam before he sinned. [email protected]

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