Parashat Teruma: "Lechem Ha-Panim" ("Show-Bread")

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Shiur #19: "Lechem Ha-Panim" ("Show-Bread")


By Rav Binyamin Tabory


            The Sefer Ha-Chinukh enumerates two positive mitzvot found in Parashat Teruma.  The first is to build the Beit Ha-Mikdash as a site for offering sacrifices and assembling all Am Yisrael on the three yearly festivals.  Following the opinion of the Rambam (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot – mitzvat asei 20), the Chinukh maintains that this mitzva also encompasses the requirement to build the various parts of the Mikdash, such as the altar, candelabra and table.  The Ramban (glosses to Sefer Ha-Mitzvot – mitzvat asei 37) disagrees with the Rambam and argues that we should count building the Mikdash as a single mitzva, and the fashioning of the various parts, such as the ark and the "kapporet" (cover), as separate mitzvot.  He contends that since sacrifices can be offered even without these appurtenances, the Mikdash obviously constitutes an independent mitzva.

            The Ramban agrees, however, that some parts of the Mikdash are not to be counted as individual mitzvot.  He writes that if a given item is needed as a prerequisite for the performance of a specific mitzva, then we should not count it individually.  Therefore, the Ramban did not count the shulchan (table) as an independent mitzva.  Since there exists a mitzva to place lechem ha-panim ("show-bread") on the shulchan, building the shulchan is merely a prerequisite (hekhsher mitzva), and not an independent mitzva.


            The second mitzva enumerated by the Chinukh is to arrange the "lechem ha-panim."  Here too, he follows the formulation of the Rambam in his listing of the mitzvot.  In the brief version of the Rambam's list printed at the beginning of Mishneh Torah, the Rambam writes (mitzvat asei 27), "to arrange the bread and frankincense before God every Shabbat, as it says, 'place lechem ha-panim on the table always'."  The Ra'avad (ad loc.) asks, why did the Rambam not count the sacrificial offering of the frankincense and the consumption of the "lechem ha-panim" as separate mitzvot?


            Although the mitzva of lechem ha-panim is found in Parashat Teruma, the details of this obligation appear only later, in Parashat Emor.  The Torah specifies (Vayikra 24:5-10) that we are required to take fine flour and bake twelve loaves, place them in two piles of six loaves each and put frankincense on each pile.  This is to be done every Shabbat, continually ("tamid").  On Shabbat, the frankincense is to be burned on the altar and the loaves (of the prior week) are to be eaten by Aharon and his sons (kohanim) in a "holy place."


            The Ra'avad understood that the Torah actually presents three mitzvot related to the lechem ha-panim: 1) to arrange the lechem ha-panim on the shulchan; 2) to burn the accompanying frankincense; 3) to eat the loaves.  To explain the Rambam's position, the Kesef Mishneh (Rav Yosef Karo) notes (ad loc.) that neither the burning of the frankincense nor the eating of the loaves was stated in the Torah as an imperative.  Apparently, he felt that the offering of the frankincense was merely a prerequisite act ("matir") permitting the lechem ha-panim for consumption by the kohanim.  The Torah then added that if the kohanim do eat the bread, they must do so "in a holy place."


            The Rambam himself elaborates upon this mitzva in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (mitzvat asei 27), where he writes, "We are commanded to continually place lechem ha-panim before God.  As you know, the Torah's intent is that we should place warm bread every Shabbat which should be accompanied by the frankincense and the kohanim should eat the bread of the previous Shabbat."


            Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk explained (in Chiddushei Ha-Grach al Ha-Shas, Yerushalayim 1976) that the obligation of eating lechem ha-panim stems from a different mitzva - the general mitzva to eat the remainder of every korban mincha (mitzvat asei 88).  The mitzva of eating the lechem ha-panim is merely an adjunct of this general obligation to eat the remainder of all menachot.


            Of course, this approach works off the assumption that lechem ha-panim belongs to the category of menachot.  Indeed, we find several halakhot supporting this assumption.  The Torah forbids preparing any korban mincha as chametz (Vayikra 2:11).  The gemara (Menachot 57a) applies this prohibition to the lechem ha-panim, as well, on the basis of the Torah's formulation of the prohibition - "EVERY mincha which you sacrifice."  The gemara also determines (ibid. 8a) that a mincha is accepted even if it contained no oil, in light of the fact that the lechem ha-panim did not contain any oil. Rashi there writes explicitly that "lechem ha-panim" is a mincha. 


            Rav Chayim proceeds to explain why we should not consider even the offering of the frankincense a separate mitzva.  He proves that there is no specific obligation to offer the frankincense every Shabbat, and this requirement stems rather from the general obligation to offer every korban in its proper time.  He cites the ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:2) that if no new bread was prepared for Shabbat, the frankincense was not offered and the twelve loaves remained on the table for an additional week.  If there were an independent mitzva to burn the frankincense, why should we not burn it even if there were no new loaves?  Why does the "continual" aspect of the "lechem ha-panim" take precedence over the mitzva of offering the frankincense? Apparently, it is not a mitzva per se and is not to be counted as an independent mitzva.  When there are new loaves prepared, it is a mitzva to offer the frankincense just as with any other korban.  In this particular case, it is a prerequisite act ("matir") which allows the kohanim to eat the lechem ha-panim.


            Although the Chinukh and others have suggested various reasons for this mitzva, it is interesting to note that the Rambam seemed perplexed about this issue.  In his discussion of the rationale for various mitzvot, he writes (Guide, 3:45), "But the shulchan and the bread which is always on it… I do not know the reason."  Likewise, in the famous poem of the Ari printed in many siddurim and birkonim which many recite or sing at the Shabbat morning meal, he writes, "He will reveal to us the reasons of the twelve loaves."  The Ari, like the Rambam, was unable to determine the underlying reason behind the mitzva of lechem ha-panim.