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T H E   H O L Y   B A K E R

Adapted from a discourse of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi said in 1795
by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

When I brake for you the staff of bread and ten women will bake your bread in one oven and they will bring back your bread by weight (lit. in a scale)… [and you will eat and not be sated].
(Leviticus 26:26)

It is known that although these admonitions seem to be curses they are in truth only blessings.

[In its literal sense, the verse reads as a curse of a food shortage, food being the “staff” upon which we support ourselves. It also predicts be a shortage of firewood forcing people to share one oven. Furthermore, the loaves will fall apart and the women will have to weigh the baked crumbs to divide them equally. What follows is the kabbalistic interpretation, in which the verse is read as a blessing.

The story is told about Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s son, Dovber, who as a child once became terribly distraught and sick after hearing the reading of the Admonition in the synagogue. When asked why he had never reacted this way in previous years when the same section was read, the child replied that every other year his father had been the one reading from the Torah. That year his father was out of town and the Torah was read by someone else. The child concluded: “When Father reads, one hears no curses.”[1]]

To explain:

It is written in the Zohar (Acharei 73a):

There are three levels that are tied one to the other: G-d, Torah, and the Jewish people…each level possesses a concealed dimension and a revealed dimension.

The concealed dimension is neither apparent nor apprehensible. It is called “concealment within concealment” (setima d’kol stimin); it is hidden even from the hidden. It is not clothed in space at all. Our thoughts cannot grasp it at all.

The revealed dimension [of G-dliness] is what we see—the physical world. We see spatial reality: six-dimensions, top, bottom and four sides.

It would seem that one could not call this physical reality “G-dliness.”

But in truth that it is how it is. For there is nothing besides Him. His sovereignty rules over all things. Everything that we perceive in the mineral, vegetable, animal and human aspects of the physical world contains a spiritual life force that sustains it constantly.

Moreover, even this spiritual life force is also called “space,” spiritual space. It is part of the revealed dimension. It is nullified to the concealed dimension as words of thought are nullified within the intellect.

(Spirtual Space: Spiritual space is the six “emotional” sefirot—Kindness, Strength, Beauty, Victory, Glory, and Foundation—which are the spiritual origin and source of the six dimensions of physical space, North, South, etc.

The higher sefirot—Wisdom and Understanding and above—are beyond even spiritual space. [Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss.])


Torah also contains a concealed and revealed dimension.

It is known that the Torah is called “bread.”

Physical bread sustains the body, even though bread is of the vegetable kingdom, which is lower than man. It seems bizarre (neged hasechel) that the human should receive nourishment from something that is lower than it.

The explanation is that in truth the spiritual root of wheat is from a truly lofty place. But because of “the shattering” these lofty sparks fell and became the life force for wheat.

[The Shattering of course referring to the shattering of the vessels of Tohu, the World of Chaos that precedes our world of Tikkun, and whose shards fell into the physical world. Thus man who stems from Tikkun is lower than wheat, which stems from Tohu. For more on The Shattering, see http://www.inner.org/responsa/leter1/RESP10.HTM.]

The same thing is true of Torah, which is called the bread of the soul. The secrets of the Torah descended and manifested themselves in physical matter, the forbidden and permitted, the pure and the impure, etc.

All of this took place because of the shattering of the First Tablets, which caused the Torah to descend into physical matters.

Hence, When I brake for you the staff of bread.…

The staff of bread refers to the Tree of Life—the concealed dimension—and with the shattering of the Tree of Life, i.e., the Tablets, the Torah fell and became clothed in physical matter, etc.

[In its original form, the Torah does not discuss earthly reality; it describes the spiritual realm. This is what the Midrash means when it tells us that the Torah “preceded” the creation of the world—even the concept of a world—by “2,000 years.”[2] Similarly, the Torah studied by the souls of the departed and the not-yet-born in the Garden of Eden does not address physical reality. The Torah we see is a dim reflection of that Torah, a translation of its sublimity in earthly terms.

This fall took place when Moses broke the first tablets. When God gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we were cleansed of the spiritual impurity the world fell into because of Adam and Eve’s sin with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Had we not sinned, the Messianic era would have commenced then, and reality would have been elevated to the spiritual plane of the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Since we would have existed on this higher spiritual plane, the Torah would not have had to descend and become couched in terms germane to physical reality. We would have been able to understand the Torah as it is written “in heaven.” But when, because of the sin of the golden calf, Moses had to break the tablets, the world descended to its present, materialistic state, and our consciousness suffered a concomitant fall. The Torah “fell,” too—that is, its sublime meaning became couched in physical terms in order to address the physical realities of our world.

When I break for you the staff of bread thus refers to the breaking of the tablets, which caused the Torah to descend and become garbed in a physical context. The term the staff of bread alludes to the Tree of Life of the Garden Eden, the source of the Torah. The “breaking” of the staff refers to the descent of the Torah from its spiritual context as the Tree of Life into its present, fallen form.

[These words shed light on the Admonition as a whole. Our perception of the Admonition as a frightening prophecy is a result of the “breaking of the staff,” the disguising of Torah in the vocabulary of earth. In its heavenly form, the Admonition is all blessing; in heaven, there is no need for admonition.]

The advantage of the Torah being couched in physical terms is that we can understand it. The disadvantage is that because we perceive the Torah in its earthly form, we may find it difficult to internalize it, to assimilate its teachings into our spiritual bloodstream. The Torah therefore tells us how to avoid the pitfall of storing the ideas of Torah in a theoretical corner of our mind. (From The Rebbe’s Chumash)]


The Torah is called wheat-bread. Chitah (chet-tet-hei—8-9-5), wheat, is numerically equivalent to 22, alluding to the 22 letters of the Alef Bet with which the Torah is written.

Now, if one eats unbaked dough it is not digested by the intestines at all, nor is it absorbed by the limbs to create blood for the soul. But when one eats baked bread it is digested by the intestines and is absorbed by the limbs becoming blood for the soul. The bread becomes literally one with the person.

So it is with the food of the soul, Torah.

When it is not “baked” (as we shall explain), it does not become one with the person who studies it even if he studies an abundance of Torah. The Torah remains in its own realm and he in his own. He receives no nourishment from it like physical bread that has not yet been baked at all.

But when the Torah is “baked” within the person it becomes absorbed by all of his 248 limbs. He and the Torah become one.


To understand the concept of “baking”:

There is a fire that is hidden and concealed within the heart of every soul. It is a fierce love of G-d and a desire to cleave to Him even when the person is overwhelmed by mundane affairs. His heart is burning constantly with love for G-d.

The heart cries out silently in its desire to cleave to Him. This is called love-sickness.

In the flames of this hidden, fiery love one can bake the bread of wheat, the Torah. And thus can the words of Torah be absorbed into his “intestines.” They can become one with him.

Hence: They will bake your bread—the Torah—in one oven [or “the oven of oneness”]—in the heat of the love that is revealed through meditation upon Oneness, the Oneness of G-d.


The matter of the ten women is that each soul contains ten levels: three mothers and seven doubles. The baking must permeate these ten attributes.

[The author uses the terminology of Abraham’s Sefer Yetzirah, where the ten sefirot are described as three mothers—referring to the three intellectual faculties, Chochmah, Binah, Da’at—which “give birth” to the seven emotions, which are called “doubles.”

In its original context, Sefer Yetzirah divides the Hebrew Alphabet into three divisions: Mothers, Doubles and Elementals. The mothers are the letters Alef, Mem, and Shin—the first, middle, and penultimate letters of the Alphabet. The seven doubles are the letters that have two sounds, plosive and fricative: Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Pei, Reish, and Tav. (Only four of these letters—Bet, Kaf, Pei and Tav (in the case of Ashkenazic Jews) are still pronounced as doubles. The Gimmel and the Dalet have a double sound only for Yemenite Jews. The double sound of the Reish has been entirely lost.)

The other twelve letters are referred to as the twelve elementals and correspond to the twelve months of the year, the twelve tribes and the twelve constellations of the Zodiac.]

And this must be done by women, i.e., with a “female,” receptive consciousness. He must know that in truth this fire is not the fruit of his efforts. Rather:

The Master of Truth has given him truth.

It is through this receptive and humble consciousness that the person can achieve the “baking” of his Torah study.

And they will bring back your bread in a scale,   

This means that the Torah will be returned through the “baking” from below to above, to the level of “scale,” as in the verse (Isaiah 40:12): “[Who measured the waters in His palm…] and with a scale weighed the mountains [the hills with a balance.]” I.e., the scale is beyond the level of mountains, for it is with the scale that G-d “weighs” the mountains. This is called mitkala [like the Hebrew mishkal] in the Zohar (Terumah 176b).

[MOUNTAINS: “Mountains” refer to love. (Aharon (Aaron) the high priest, for example, epitomizes love. His name therefore contains the word har, mountain.) The mountains and hills referred to in this verse from Isaiah correspond to two levels of love, the hills being lower than the mountains and receiving from them. (Elsewhere, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains why the mountains and hills are measured with different types of scales.)

Peless, or scale, refers to Binah, understanding (Meorei Or). Thus “scale,” Binah, is beyond “mountains,” love. (See Likutei Torah Nitzavim 45a.)

From The Rebbe’s Chumash: When one arm of a scale goes down, the other goes up. Similarly, by integrating the Torah into our beings, by bringing it down and allowing it to reach even the most mundane facet of our lives, we cause a reciprocal reaction and “elevate” the Torah back to its primordial form, as it was before it “fell” into its present material context. The spiritual dimension of the Torah begins to open up before us, and we become privy to deeper and deeper insights into its infinite meaning.]

You will eat and not be sated—just as “He who loves money [will never have enough money]” (Ecclesiastes 5:9). Similarly, in his great love, he returns again and again, countless times, and each time the words of Torah are literally new to him—his soul can never be satisfied by them.

[1] The most sublime blessings are couched in most dreadful terms. This is because whenever a blessing is bestowed by heaven, it must first pass through the heavenly court, where the prospective recipient is judged as to whether or not he is worthy of the blessing. When the blessing is “disguised” as a curse, however, it “bypasses” the forces of strict judgment and can make its way straight to its recipient. In the Talmud (Moed Kattan 9b) we are told that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) sent his son, Rabbi Elazar, to receive the blessings of a few of the sages. They bestowed upon him what sounded like a string of curses: “May it be the will [of God] that you sow and not reap…let your house be destroyed…let your table be disturbed, and may you not see a new year.” His father, expounder of the soul of Torah, revealed to him the meaning of their “blessings,” the soul of their words (L.S. 7:233). (The Rebbe’s Chumash)

[2] Bereishit Rabbah 8:2. The “two thousand years” are understood to refer to the two sefirot of the intellect, chochmah and binah. In the phrase, “I shall teach you chochmah” (Job 33:33), the word for “I shall teach” can be read “I am a thousand.” The sefirot of chochmah and binah, the primordial Torah, thus precede the seven emotional attributes—which become manifest as the seven days of creation—by “two thousand years.”




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