By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this weeks parsha the Torah juxtaposes the laws of the Lechem haponim – the twelve loaves that were part of the avodah in the Mishkan, to the unfortunate episode of the blasphemer. Rashi (Vayikra 24,10), quoting an opinion of Chazal tells us that these two parts of the parsha are very much connected. For prior to blaspheming the man had denounced the avodah of having loaves lying around in the Mishkan. He had said, “Is this the manner of a King to eat nine day old cold bread?” Now this seems to be somewhat puzzling. For at first he seems to be defending the honor of Hashem and yet in the next incident we find him blaspheming?
Perhaps we can answer that, truth be told, the loaves were not at all cold. Chazal (Chagigah 26b) tell us that miraculously they were fresh and piping hot as if they had just come out of the oven. This miracle actually was shared with the masses who came to the Bais Hamikdosh for Yom Tov. At that time the shulchan (upon which the loaves rested) was taken out of the Heichal and was brought into the Azarah where the Bnai Yisroel had gathered and was hoisted aloft for all to see the steam rising from the loaves. And yet this unfortunate man claimed that the loaves were cold (and stale). Why would he make a statement that was obviously untrue?
As we mentioned above the loaves were called the “Lechem Haponim” which literally means “The bread of faces”. The Imrai Emes, however, offers a different understanding. Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlay 27,19) uses an expression “K’mayim hapanim l’panim..” – “Like reflective waters…” The Lechem hapanim, too, can be translated as “The reflective loaves” for they mirrored the people looking at them. If the viewer was holy, then the loaves were invested with holiness and displayed miraculous tendencies. If the viewer, however, had fallen short of his spiritual goals then the loaves too withheld some of their spiritual lustre. And if one was totally bereft of kedusha then such a challenged individual looking at the Lechem Haponim could only see a mirror image of himself; cold and stale.
Now we can understand the true level of the blasphemer. His complaint about the quality of the loaves was not so much a defense of Hashem’s kovod but rather a painful cry of despondency over his own shortcomings. Saying that the bread was cold was because he was spiritually frigid. Stale loaves meant he was suffering a tasteless state of yiddishkeit. If that is what he saw, then that is what he was. And thus, after showing his true colors through the reflection of the bread, he actually stayed true to character and when confronted with the next nisayon in his life he failed and blasphemed.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.