Hebrew In Israel | Bread – Learn Torah

Bread in the bible,

Hebrew In Israel | Bread – Learn Torah

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Who doesn’t love a freshly baked slice of bread?  With the exception of people who have health problems, most of us see bread as a basic staple of our food.  In Hebrew the word for bread is לֶחֶם – Lechem.  Bread was the basic food in grain-based societies, and had many forms beginning with more porridge like food to sophisticated breads (in Egypt they had many types of baked goods).

Bread as a rule was always eaten with other food, and was used as the vehicle food was eaten with:

וְיַעֲקֹב נָתַן לְעֵשָׂו לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת הַבְּכֹרָה

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. Gen 24:34

However, there is an interesting use of Lechem in some places in the bible not as bread but as “food”.

A good example of this is Psalms 141:4

אַל תַּט לִבִּי לְדָבָר רָע לְהִתְעוֹלֵל עֲלִלוֹת בְּרֶשַׁע אֶת אִישִׁים פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן וּבַל אֶלְחַם בְּמַנְעַמֵּיהֶם

Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.

The word אֶלְחַם is a verbal form of bread that means “to eat” (as if saying “to bread”).  We find that the word bread is used to indicate the action of eating, together with the meaning of food in general.  Hence the Hebrew speaker used the base food of his time to indicate the action of eating.

Another case is the following:

אַךְ בַּיהוָה אַל תִּמְרֹדוּ וְאַתֶּם אַל תִּירְאוּ אֶת עַם הָאָרֶץ כִּי לַחְמֵנוּ הֵם סָר צִלָּם מֵעֲלֵיהֶם וַיהוָה אִתָּנוּ אַל תִּירָאֻם

Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them. Numbers 14:9

Again we see that the text is treating bread as a form of eating.  The enemy is seen as food that can be consumed by Israel in the same way one eats bread.  In both cases the speaker is speaking of bread as food in general and not just bread.

It can be argued that the etymology of Lechem is not actually bread, but originally meant food and took the meaning of bread when the latter became the common base food.  Evidence of this can be found in Arabic.  The Arabic word for meat is لحم which is sounded as L’hm which is almost the same as Lechem.  It seems that the same word was adopted into Arabic with the same meaning as Hebrew (i.e food), but because meat was the staple of nomadic people it means meat.

The final evidence is from Akkadian where the verb lemu/la’amum means to “eat and drink, to consume”.  Both languages show us that לחם is not bread, and that it can mean food in one way or another.  Hence the original nominal meaning of לחם should be seen as food as demonstrated by its use in the Bible and sister languages.

As can be seen, a word does not always have a simple meaning, and finding the origins of a word needs more than just finding a root, but also paying close attention to philology and historical grammar.


Originally published: 30 April 2015


Willie Newcomb Jr

January 26, 2018 at 2:23 am

Hello and thank you for the awesome post. I want to get your opinion on what elements of Hebrew make it difficult for the adult second language learners of Hebrew to attain native fluency. I appreciate your time.

    Yoel Halevi

    February 3, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    I do not think it is an issue of specifics. Each person is different and have different levels of understanding and control and understanding. Some people have difficulty with vocabulary, while others don’t understand grammar.

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