By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Rebbe Abba says that on Shabbos one is obligated to recite HaMotzi on two loaves of bread (Shabbos 117b). This is to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell in the Midbar on Friday and that provided food for Shabbos, when the manna didn’t fall. (Except for Shabbos, it was always ManDay.)
Although Rebbe Abba doesn’t explicitly say that the loaves must be whole, his statement is universally understood that way. (There is the opinion of the Netziv that the determination of what is considered a whole loaf is based on its appearance when it is first brought to the table. However, the Netziv doesn’t argue with the basic requirement of whole loaves.) This requirement manifests itself by mandating a slightly different HaMotzi procedure than during the week.
The first mishnah in the last perek of Sanhedrin says that three kings have no share in the World to Come—Yeravam, Achav, and Menashe. Rav Ashi was finishing a lecture on this perek and stated, “Tomorrow we will start by discussing our friends” (Sanhedrin 102b). The “friends” referred to were the very same kings we just listed. King Menashe appeared to Rav Ashi in a dream and challenged him, “Your knowledge of Torah is half-baked, and you’re calling me your doughboy?” (That is a dramatized version; the Gemara reports it as: “You call us your friends and the friends of your fathers?”) Menashe then tested him with the following question: “Where are you supposed to start cutting the bread from when you make HaMotzi?”
Rav Ashi didn’t know. Menashe said, “You don’t even know where to start cutting the bread and you’re calling me your friend?” Rav Ashi asked Menashe to teach him the halachah, saying that he would teach it at the next day’s lecture, in the name of Menashe. Menashe acquiesced and taught that you should start cutting the bread from where it begins to bake in the oven.
So Rav Ashi asked, “If you are so wise, why did you worship idols?” Menashe answered, “If you had been there, you would have picked up the bottom of your cloak and run after me.” (The desire for idol worship was so strong then, that it was difficult for even righteous individuals to overcome it.)
The next day in shiur, Rav Ashi referred to Menashe’s group as “our rabbis.” This was not just a crummy attempt to butter him up, but a real recognition that King Menashe was an accomplished Torah scholar, albeit one who sinned grievously.
Why did Menashe challenge Rav Ashi on this particular halachah? The Maharsha explains that bread is a sign that Hashem accepts repentance. After Adam sinned, Hashem cursed the ground that produces the wheat for bread. In reality, after the curse the entire growing process should have been so difficult that it would have been virtually impossible to make bread. However, because Adam HaRishon confessed his sin and repented, Hashem relented and allowed the ground to once again produce wheat, albeit with greater difficulty than originally.
Menashe was telling Rav Ashi that he doesn’t belong sandwiched between Achav and Yeravam, who have no Olam HaBa, because he repented, as the pesukim in Navi clearly state. This was not just a flaky argument. Indeed, Rebbe Yehudah concurs and states that Menashe does in fact have a portion in the World to Come and should not be mentioned together with any John Dough who does not.
The Toras Chayim offers some insight as to why there is significance to where we start cutting the challah. He explains that we find all along the path of bread production that portions are set aside for a mitzvah. We set aside some of the first growth for bikkurim. We set aside some of the grown produce for terumah. When the wheat is turned into dough, we set aside a portion for challah. So, when we say HaMotzi, we want the berachah to be said on the part of the bread that first begins to bake.
We are in essence sanctifying that part of the bread and giving it a rise as a display of gratitude for all that Hashem has done for us during the entire process of making bread. This also explains beautifully Rav Ashi’s follow-up question: If you were so well versed in the manners of expressing gratitude to Hashem, what led you to forsake him for idols? No matter how you slice it, the Toras Chayim concludes that even on Shabbos one should at least mark where to begin cutting the bread from.
A little introduction to understand this chiddush is in order. There is a mitzvah to recite a berachah on a shalem—a complete loaf. Ideally, one should cut the bread only after making the berachah on the complete loaf. However, there is also a halachah that one should eat immediately after reciting HaMotzi. Seemingly, he should cut his slice of bread before reciting HaMotzi to enable him to eat promptly. To balance these two opposing requirements, we advise Poppy to cut his sesame bread as much as possible while still retaining its status as a shalem.
A whole loaf with a break in it is considered a shalem as long as one can pick up the smaller part of the loaf and the larger part will be lifted together with it and not break off. So before he makes the pre-benediction incision and opens sesame, he needs to make an evaluation as to how far he can slice without halachically making it considered an incomplete loaf.
That procedure is fine for during the week, where a shalem is desired but not kneaded. On Shabbos, however, there is an obligation to use two whole loaves (which commemorate the double portion of manna that fell on Friday) to start every meal. If we allow the breadwinner to start slicing the challah, we are afraid that the cut might go a-rye and then he’ll be in a jam. He may slice too deeply and consequently won’t have the requisite challos for lechem mishneh, which need to be whole. Instead he’ll be toast.
So we advise the person reciting HaMotzi not to actually cut the challah, but just to make a small incision to indicate where he should start cutting from after HaMotzi. The purpose of this incision is essentially to save time and minimize any interruption after the berachah. He should be able to quickly locate the place to start slicing immediately upon reciting the berachah. If it takes a person time to find his incision, then seemingly he shouldn’t make one. In fact, it is counterproductive.
The reason he would want to make an incision in the first place is to comply with the halachah that Menashe taught above: one should start cutting the loaf from where it begins to bake. There is a difference of opinion as to where this is. The Rema advises one to turn the bread sideways and cut from the top of the loaf and bottom at the same time to fulfill all opinions.
Yet others say to begin slicing from the most well-baked part of the challah. So then he would need to visually inspect the challah and find the most well-done part and make a small incision there. (The Mishnah Berurah writes, however, that you should always be careful that the place that you start cutting from is edible and it shouldn’t be burnt thoroughly or dirty.)
Still others say that the way our bread is baked nowadays, there is no preferred place to begin cutting. However, anyone with a sharp mind can see that the incision is only to save time. If the bread has no preferred place to begin cutting from, he need not make an incision. Indeed, the Aruch HaShulchan writes that on small rolls or bagels no incision is necessary because they bake evenly and have no preferred starting place. This is the accepted halachah.
However, if one wishes to fulfill the p’shat of the Toras Chayim mentioned above, one should always make an incision. According to the Toras Chayim the incision is not merely to save time but has symbolic significance as well, by sanctifying the “first” portion. Even if you take this chiddush with a grain of salt, all agree that one should make a significant cut during the week before HaMotzi whenever a whole challah is used (e.g., Hoshana Rabbah, Purim, or erev Yom Kippur).
That’s a wrap! Good Shabbos. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.
The author thanks his former class for the puns (contributors include but are not limited to Chaim Bender, Yoni Bouskilla, Chaim Kazan, Binyamin Pretter, and Dovy Schreiber).