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The Bread of Shame

The Bread of Shame


"Man is born to toil." This is true of the Jewish people as a nation, as well as the individual man. G‑d commanded Moses at the time of the birth of our people, "When you will take this people out of Egypt you shall serve G‑d on this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). Israel's deliverance from Egypt was not merely to come to "the good and broad land" or to "eat its fruit and be satiated with its goodness." The Jewish people were freed from Egyptian slavery in order to attain the level of true service of the A-lmighty.

And as at the time of Israel's birth, so was it also at the time Man came to be; Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden, "To work it and to guard it" (Genesis 2:15).

Why should the Creator, who is the essence of all goodness, require work and service as man's only ultimate path to perfection? Why must we struggle and toil to remove the many obstacles and barriers to realizing our true potential? Does this not seem to be the very opposite of G‑d's infinite goodness?

A deeper analysis of human nature, however, reveals that requiring work, toil and effort from man was an act of ultimate and perfect goodness by G‑d. When a person invests effort, he earns his reward. Even when he has not exerted great effort, but has merely pleased another person, the other might be moved to give him a gift. But in a case when even this factor of pleasing another is absent, and he receives a totally gratuitous handout, purely as a donation — this is "bread of shame" that does not satisfy, but distresses.

Our sages illustrate the concept of "shameful bread" with the example of a bride who turns away her face in shame while eating the wedding meal. Not having yet invested any efforts in establishing or maintaining her household, she feels that the meal provided for her is not earned, is but a gratuity, and is "bread of shame."

The Talmud teaches that if a man deposits some of his produce with a neighbor (for the latter to keep for him while he is away) and it starts to rot, one opinion is that the neighbor should sell it, before too much of it rots, so as to save his friend's money. Another opinion maintains, however, that the neighbor should not touch it, for "a man prefers one of his own to nine of his neighbor's." His friend would prefer the smaller quantity of fruit, salvaged from the rot, that he grew himself to the larger quantity of another's fruit that he could buy with the money. His own fruits are particularly endeared to him because he toiled to produce them.1 One honestly-earned measure that is the product of one's own toil and effort is more desirable — not merely than someone else's one or two measures, but — than even nine!

G‑d desired that we should "have it good" in the best possible way. He wished not merely to bestow upon us the greatest goodness, but also to ensure that we should receive, absorb and "digest" this goodness in the most perfect way; so He created mankind to toil and the Jewish nation to serve. Had G‑d not done so, had He instead gratuitously bestowed His blessings, then there would indeed have been vast goodness granted us, but it would have been distasteful, it would have been unearned "bread of shame" and its bestowal would not have characterized the ultimate and perfect beneficence of the Creator.2

Talmud, Bava Metzia 38a.
From an unedited account of a discourse given on 11th Nissan, 5732.
Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan was associate director of the Lubavitch Foundation in Michigan. An innovative educator and author, he compiled A Thought for the Week adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Kagan taught chassidic philosophy at various universities in Michigan, untill his tragic passing in a car accident in 2001.
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Anonymous New Jersey September 22, 2017

I assume that it means We should be more mindful of our gifts and have a even exchange so that their is no shame. Reply

Anonymous Bronx, USA December 8, 2010

bread if shane Perhaps when we share our gifts they are multiplied, and what goes around comes around.

At least they are not lost with just us. Reply

Anonymous lkwd, nj May 11, 2010

bread of shame why did g-d have to create us with that feeling? Reply

Laura Lobos Buenos Aires, Argentina January 16, 2009

Bread of Shame The truth of the matter is that if you look at what goes on in the present world lots, lots of people not only receive, but steal from others and feel no shame, no compunction, apaprently no guilt, and seem to sleep soundly at night, with no remorse whatsoever. Look at all of the corrupt tycoons all over the world, and particularly in the underdeveloped countries. Reply

Adrian Saporta new brunswick, nj October 17, 2006

this does seem very logical -- but how can one confirm the truth in this statement? Reply

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