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Shabbat Parashat Bereishit 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Fighting for Bread

Rav Daniel Mann

Hashem decreed upon man, as a result of Adam’s sin: “… the ground will be cursed for you; with hardship shall you eat from it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles will it grow for you, and you shall eat the grass (plants?) of the field. With the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread …” (Bereishit 3:17-19). 

These changes in nature, due to man, are not just a punishment but also a change in focus. The Netziv (ad loc.) says that given that man was distanced from Hashem, it is good for him to fill his life with hard work. Actually, earlier (ibid. 2:15) we see that Adam was originally placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and guard it.” So the need for work is nothing new. Apparently it was not the need for work which was the punishment or the tikkun (the means for rectifying his situation), but the strains it put on relationships.

Originally, there was to be a very harmonious relationship between Adam and the earth from which he was taken. He was to guard it and improve it, and by its nature it would provide all his needs in a pleasant manner. Adam caused the ground to be cursed, and it “responded” by making things difficult. The ground produces growths that make it difficult for man to cultivate it, and while it says three times that he will eat, each time it is with significant difficulty. The first time it is that he will have to work hard to get the ground to produce for him. The second time it says that he will eat the grass of the field, as opposed to the very appealing fruit of the Garden of Eden (see ibid. 2:9). The third time it says that he will need to sweat to eat his bread. The Netziv explains that from the time that the ground gives its raw product, man still needs to take many sweat-producing steps before he can eat his bread.

Another element of the lack of harmony between the ground and man arises in the realm of the production of bread, man’s primary sustenance (see Bereishit 28:20). Grain is the seed of tall grasses that cover large patches of ground. As such, man takes from nature that which would allow it to reproduce and eats it for himself (of course, usually he leaves enough seeds to plant again). This is different from most fruit, where one can eat the flesh of the fruit and save the inedible seeds for replanting. The “strained relationship” between the earth and man ultimately ends with the land swallowing up the deceased man (ibid. 3:19).

Rav Hirsch points out another lack of harmony that arises from man’s quest to eat bread according to his desires. The Hebrew word for bread (lechem) shares a root with the word for war (milchama). This, he says, hints at the constant struggle within society as to who will succeed in making his livelihood, represented by having food to eat, at the apparent expense of whom.

Indeed, man is able to eat, but everything is more complicated due to Adam’s sin. The challenge for us, who strive to be godly individuals, is to go about having bread to take home in a way that is as harmonious as can be with those around us. When we will succeed in filling our daily life (whether in agriculture or any worthwhile pursuit) with a variety of mitzvot, we will merit living in an more ideal in history, when the Land of Israel will have trees that grow loaves of bread ready to be picked, literally and/or figuratively (see Ketubot 111b).

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