Parshas Lech Lecha
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Fresh Bread and Aged Wine - Connoisseur's Delight
In Parshas Lech Lecha, a monumental meeting takes place between
the two great individuals living at that time: Avraham and Malchi-
Tzedek, whom Chazal identify as Shem, son of Noach. While their
encounter is shrouded in mystery and metaphor, the Torah recounts
that Malchi-Tzedek, upon meeting Avraham, "brought out bread and
wine - and he [Malchi-Tzedek] was a priest to G-d, most Exalted.
What is the symbolic significance of the bread and wine that Malchi-
Parshas Lech Lecha, 5748 (1987), was the last time our city had the
privilege of hosting the Bobover Rebbe zt"l for Shabbos (although he
did visit the city subsequently during the weekdays). Those who had
the opportunity to bask in the Rebbe's presence that Shabbos likely
recall with fondness the special ta'am (taste) that a Shabbos with the
Rebbe had, as do I. The tisch (a Chassidic gathering around the
Rebbe's Shabbos table) was held in the old Associated Hebrew
School building, and was attended by hundreds, if not thousands. As
was his custom every Friday night, the Rebbe spent considerable time
discussing the parshas ha-shavuah (weekly parsha), probing its
depths, and imbuing it with his own insights and wisdom.
Sadly, I can't say I remember everything the Rebbe said that Friday
night. One line, however, remains clearly etched among the
somewhat cloudy annals of my memory. "Who likes to eat old
bread?!" the Rebbe exclaimed. (At the time, I remember finding this
kind of ironic, since the Rebbe made it a habit to avoid fresh bread,
preferring a slightly staler loaf.) The Rebbe was not castigating the
baker of his challos. He was, in fact, discussing the foods which
Malchi-Tzedek chose to serve upon meeting Avraham.
Bread, explained the Rebbe, is only good when it's fresh. But go to
your local vintner, and ask him for a "good fresh bottle of wine," and
watch him cringe in utter distaste. Ask any Frenchman worth his
baguette: A fresh-baked loaf of bread, and a chilled bottle of aged
wine, these are the components of any gourmet meal. The fresher
the bread, and the older the wine, the more the palate takes delight.
The Torah describes Avraham Avinu in his older years: "And Avraham
was old - he had come with his days. (Bereishis 24:1)" This means,
explained the Rebbe, that Avraham brought the days of his youth with
him into his elder. Normally, youth carries with it the advantage of
energy and enthusiasm. As one gets on in his years, he loses the
vigour of his youth, but is graced with the wisdom and maturity that
come with age. Rare is the individual who can retain the vitality of his
youth even as the candles on his proverbial birthday cake fruitfully
Yet this was exactly what Avraham Avinu achieved. While by no
means a youngster, he served Hashem with the freshness and
enthusiasm usually reserved for those still wet behind the ears. As a
tribute to this unique combination of youth and age, Malchi-Tzedek
served bread and wine, two foods that possess the opposite qualities
of freshness and maturity, yet together form a meal pleasing to even
the most refined tastebuds.
Anyone who had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe zt"l knows that
he, more than perhaps anyone I have ever met, was the embodiment
of this idea. When the Rebbe walked the short distance from his
home to the Bais HaMidrash each morning, he did so with such
vigour and enthusiasm that even his gabbaim had to run just to keep
up with him. When he put on tefillin each day, he did so with the
love and anticipation one usually finds only in a bar-mitzvah bachur.
It is no wonder people would come from far and wide just to see the
Rebbe put tefillin on.
Who could ever forget seeing the Rebbe, each Friday night at about
2:30 am, after the conclusion of his tisch, dancing "T'ni shevach"
with his chassidim, sometimes continuing for half an hour or longer.
The ta'am of that dancing was far more luscious to us than the
repast of even the most demanding connoisseur. The Rebbe gave us
young guys, falling asleep at the tables, energy.
I believe it was this unique quality which enabled the Rebbe to relate
to - and make an indelible impression on - everyone he met, from the
smallest child, who never forgot the Rebbe's smile as he warmly
shook his hand, to the elders of the generation, who came to the
Rebbe for advice, counsel, and chizzuk. I first met the Rebbe when
he was 76 years old. I only knew him during the final stages of his
life. Yet we never considered the Rebbe old. When, well into his
eighties, age finally began to take its toll on the Rebbe's body (but not
his spirit), and he had to make minor reductions to his impossibly
busy schedule, it came as a great shock to his chassidim, who
refused to acknowledge his age. We somehow believed and hoped
that the Rebbe's body wouldn't age, just as his spirit never did.
The Rebbe may have in truth had a liking for stale bread, yet, as
Avraham Avinu before him, his "bread" was always fresh, and his
"wine" always aged to perfection. We can only hope to learn from his
ways, and pray that we too retain the vigour of youth throughout our
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored in memory
of Mrs. Frimet Langner ob"m.
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.