Parashat Beshalach: Lechem Mishneh (Two Loaves of Bread)

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Shiur #16: Lechem Mishneh (Two Loaves of Bread)


By Rav Binyamin Tabory



            Benei Yisrael received a daily portion of "mann" which sustained them throughout their sojourn in the desert.  On the first Friday after the manna began falling, they were surprised to find a double portion.  Since Moshe had not yet informed them of the laws of Shabbat, they did not understand the reason for this double portion.  Thereupon, Moshe explained that this double portion was to be eaten on Friday and Shabbat, as the mann would not appear on Shabbat.

            Since the custom was to eat two meals a day, the mann that arrived on Friday sufficed for four meals. Assuming that each portion consisted of one loaf, there must have been three loaves for the Shabbat meals. Apparently, on Friday night and Shabbat day the loaves were set on the Shabbat table, and one loaf would be eaten at each meal.  Obviously, this would mean that at seuda shelishit (the third meal of Shabbat), only one loaf remained and was then eaten.

           The gemara (Shabbat 117b) says in the name of R. Abba that on Shabbat, "chayav adam li-vtzoa al shetei kikerot" – one must cut two loaves of bread, since it says in the Torah that "lechem mishneh" – a double portion – fell for Shabbat.        Although we might have understood R. Abba to mean that one must in fact cut the two loaves, as the term "li-vtzoa" would seemingly imply, Rashi comments that the obligation is merely to recite the berakha over two loaves, whereas only one must be eaten at that meal.  Reb Chaim Soloveitchik zt"l is reported to have understood that if the host recited the berakha and the guests did not eat from the "lechem mishneh," they have nevertheless fulfilled their obligation.  He likened this to the law of kiddush.  Anyone who hears the kiddush fulfills his obligation even if he does not drink wine at all.  (See the journal, "Mesorah," vol. IV p.16).  The Mishna Berura, however, says clearly that all must hear the berakha and partake of the "lechem mishneh" (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 167:83).


            The gemara continues by noting the custom of Rav Kahana, as recorded by Rav Ashi, to take two loaves and cut just one.  The gemara explains this practice as based on the pasuk, "they gathered 'lechem mishneh.'"  The verse does not say that they actually cut both loaves – which they obviously did not, since this would not leave enough loaves for the three meals of Shabbat – but rather that they gathered two loaves.  Thus, on Shabbat Rav Kahana would take two loaves but slice only one of them.


            The gemara reports another custom, that of R. Zeira, who would cut the entire "shirutei." (The meaning of this word is unclear.  Indeed, the text of the gemara and the names of the sages cited vary in different versions of the Talmud.  The interested reader is referred to a scholarly article on the topic by my brother, Prof. Yosef Tabory, in a memorial volume for Rav Shimon Katz.)  Rashi explains that R. Zeira sliced a large portion of bread which would suffice for the entire meal.  The gemara goes on to explain why this custom does not seem to be gluttonous.


            In summation, Rashi explains the gemara to mean that everyone agrees to the following points: the berakha should be recited over two loaves, only one loaf must be sliced, and there was a custom to cut an unusually large portion.  The Rashba (ad loc.) cites Rashi's interpretation of R. Zeira but disagrees, arguing that the generous host should always cut a large portion, not only on Shabbat.  Furthermore, why would the gemara raise the issue of gluttony if the host cut a large slice in order to appear generous?  The Rashba therefore explained that R. Zeira cut all the loaves placed before him, thus requiring the gemara to explain why this did not appear gluttonous.  The Rashba gives no explanation, however, as to why all the loaves must be sliced.  The custom of the Ari, based on kabbala, was to slice twelve challot at each meal on Shabbat.  The Vilna Gaon (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 274:1) commended and approved of the opinion of Rav Zeira as understood by the Rashba, and indeed it is reported (in Ma'aseh Rav, 123) that the Gaon generally sliced two challot at each meal.  Once, however, he happened to have had many challot before him, and he sliced them all.  Apparently, the Gaon thought the Rashba recommended slicing ALL the challot at each meal.


            However, the Rashba himself paints an entirely different picture in his responsa (vol. 7 number 530).  He says that Rava (in our gemara it says R. Zeira) sliced TWO challot (not all of them) at each meal.  He explained that many aspects of Shabbat (such as the two sheep of the korban Shabbat, "zakhor ve-shamor" etc.) are double.  Therefore, we should slice a twice as many loaves as usual.  As the Rashba notes, however, this could not possibly correspond to what was done at the time of the mann, when they had to leave the loaves for the other meals.  He therefore recommended that we follow the custom of R. Kahana (R. Huna in variant texts) to recite the berakha over the "lechem mishneh" but slice only one of the loaves.


            According to the Rashba, then, there is one opinion (R. Kahana or R. Huna) that only one challa should be cut, another opinion (R. Zeira) requiring slicing two challot, and yet another opinion (the Vilna Gaon's understanding of the Rashba's explanation of R. Zeira) that all challot should be cut.


            At first glance, Rav Zeira's opinion has nothing to do with the mann; therefore, all Shabbat meals, including seuda shelishit, should require "lechem mishneh."  Despite the fact that Benei Yisrael did not have enough loaves for "lechem mishneh" for seuda shelishit, we still should have "lechem mishneh."  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 29:1) rules accordingly, that we should have "lechem mishneh" even at seuda shelishit.  In fact, the Rama cites the position of the Avudraham that if one were to eat more than three meals on Shabbat, he must have "lechem mishneh" at each meal.


            On the other hand, R. Kahana (or R. Huna) maintains that we should cut only one challa at each meal, as was done by Benei Yisrael.  It would follow, therefore, that there is no need for "lechem mishneh" at seuda shelishit, since there remained for this meal only a single portion of mann.  It has been argued, however, that remembering and reenacting the mann are two separate issues.  We have "lechem mishneh" to remind us of the mann, but we should nevertheless have "lechem mishneh" even at seuda shelishit.  Although in the wilderness Benei Yisrael did not have "lechem mishneh" for their third meal, we are still reminded of the mann by having two loaves at this meal (Ritva, Shabbat 117b).  The Tur and Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 291) quote a number of authorities who debate this point.


            The question arises as to whether women are obligated in "lechem mishneh."  In general, women are exempt from time-bound mitzvot.  However, Rabbeinu Tam (cited in the responsa of Rav Meir of Rottenberg, Prague edition, number 473) claimed that since women were involved in the miracle of the manna, they are therefore obligated with respect to "lechem mishneh."  The Ran (Shabbat 44a in pagination of the Rif) agrees with Rabbeinu Tam that women are obligated in "lechem mishneh," albeit for a different reason.  Since in general men and women are equally obligated in all laws of Shabbat, we need not base women's obligation in "lechem mishneh" on their inclusion in the miracle of mann.  In any event, it seems that according to no view are women exempt from "lechem mishneh."  The Mishna Berura (291:1) comments that women are obligated because of their involvement in the mann, and the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chayim 274:4) writes that women are obligated in "lechem mishneh" because all Shabbat laws pertain equally to men and women.