Judaism’s relationship with bread is complex.

The prohibition against bread on Passover is far more extensive than all other prohibitions. Not only are we not allowed to eat bread, we are also prohibited to own bread. Immediately after Passover, however, bread makes a comeback. The bread that was so terrible yesterday somehow becomes acceptable today.

There was noWhat is the spiritual nature of bread? leavened bread offered in the Holy Temple all year long. The verse states clearly: “No meal offering that you sacrifice to the L‑rd shall be made out of anything leavened. For you shall not cause to go up in smoke any leavening or any honey, as a fire offering to the L‑rd.”1 Yet, once a year, after counting 49 days from the second day of Passover, there was a commandment to offer leavened bread. As the Torah states in this week’s portion:

And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks . . . From your dwelling places, you shall bring bread, set aside, two loaves made from two tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, [and] they shall be baked leavened, the first offering to the L‑rd.2

What is the spiritual nature of bread? Is bread completely prohibited (as it is on Passover and year-round in the Temple), is it a neutral substance (as it is all year outside the Temple) or is it a mitzvah (as it is in the Temple after counting the seven weeks)?

Leavened bread represents the inflated ego. As such, at the beginning of our relationship with G‑d, as we seek to connect to our spirituality, we must reject our pleasure-seeking ego. For if we allow our inflated sense of self to dictate how we live our life, we will not be able to create a relationship with that which is beyond the self. Thus, on Passover, at the beginning of our spiritual journey, we separate completely from bread.

The purpose of life, and the ultimate goal of Judaism, however, is not to escape the self, but rather to elevate the self. Therefore, immediately after Passover, as we count the seven weeks, we work to refine our seven primary character traits, elevating the animalistic side of ourselves. At the conclusion of the seven weeks, the bread, the sense of self, is no longer a distraction from spirituality. On the contrary, the sense of self has been refined to the point that the pleasure-seeking self now directs its intense animalistic passion and drive to spirituality, to the love of others and to the love of G‑d. At this point, the bread, the self, is not only neutral, it is a constructive and essential part of our relationship with the spiritual. Thus, after the seven weeks, on the holiday of Shavuot, the bread becomes a mitzvah.

Our relationshipThe purpose of life is to elevate the self with bread is the model for our interaction with all aspects of the world around us. To ensure that we are using physical objects and experiences, such as smartphones, food or any other worldly pleasure, for a good purpose, and that these objects are not controlling us, we must first ensure that we have the ability to separate from them—to turn off the phone, to say no to a given pleasure. Once we establish that we are in control, we can introduce the material object into our life and use it in a healthy way. Ultimately, we can take it a step further, and the material object or experience can become a positive influence in our life, making us happier, kinder and more spiritually aware. It can become like the bread offered to G‑d in the Temple.