Berakhot 50

Elevating the mundane.

As we have seen by now, we bring God into all aspects of life, taking Judaism to our studies, our parenting, our relationships, and now to the dinner table. Berakhot 50b has us focus our attention squarely on wine and bread, two staples in Judaism and Jewish ritual.

The sages taught: Four things were said with regard to bread: One may not place raw meat on bread so the blood will not drip onto the bread and render it inedible; and one may not pass a full cup of wine over bread lest the wine drip on it and ruin the bread; and one may not throw bread; and one may not prop up a dish with a piece of bread. The basis for these laws is the need to treat bread with respect.

The sages here identify the importance of bread as a source of sustenance that transcends the physical. Indeed, bread is more than food for the body; it is created by God, who brings forth bread from the earth. It is of course necessary to our survival, thus taking on a near spiritual quality. We not only use a unique blessing for bread, therefore, but are meant to treat it with clear reverence.

The instructions noted above regarding how we are to handle ourselves around bread are telling. First, we learn that we are to maintain it as edible at all costs, not harming it by having it come in contact with other items, whether it is blood (which would make it un-kosher) or wine (which would make it unappetizing). Herein lies a suggestion that we carefully safeguard its purity. Nor are we to handle bread in condescending or even irreverent ways, such as throwing it or using it as a would-be stand for dishes.

The message here is that there is spiritual significance in elevating something as seemingly mundane as bread. Today’s page can help us think about what else we might take for granted today and where else we might find even unexpected holiness. The rabbis are reaching through time and urging us to bring God fully into our their lives as we work — all these years later — to craft a Judaism that is attainable, tenable, and available to all.

Read all of Berakhot 50 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 22, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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