Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Vaera 5772

Like many other Jews, I had an Uncle Chaim who was a baker. He was from the Old Country, and because of his exalted place in our family (and probably because of his vocation, too), he had a standard job at all family simchas. He was the Motzi Man. In his apartment, you could see a collage of photos of him, the celebrant, a long knife, and a big hallah. I guess you could say he was my family’s Sam Oko.

It’s almost funny that we gave the job of saying one of our tradition’s best-known blessings to one of the most learned people in the family. Just about anyone can say Hamotzi, right? What’s the great honor?

Well, there’s actually tremendous religious significance to the text of the blessing over bread. So carefully did the rabbis think of the meaning of all berakhot that they didn’t always agree on what we should say. For example, we find in the Talmud (Bavli Berakhot 38a) the following disagreement:

Tanu Rabbanan-our rabbis taught: What should he say [as the blessing before eating bread?] Hamotzi lehem min ha-aretz. Rabbi Nehemyah said [we should say] Motzi lehem min ha-aretz.

The grand difference between these two opinions is one letter,hei, and one vowel under it. What’s the difference in meaning?Hamotzi means “the one who brings;” Motzi means “brought.” It may seem like an insignificant little letter, but its presence or absence has real theological implications. Are we thanking God for a past-tense act-“brought”-or an act that is constantly being repeated-“who brings?”

On Shabbat morning, a short time before we say this blessing and go to kiddush, we’ll look at this text, how it relates to our Torah portion, and what it says about acknowledging God’s role in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi David Wise