In Parshat Ekev (Dvarim 8:7-9), B’nai Yisrael are told:
For HaShem, your God, is bringing you to a good Land; a Land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a Land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a Land of olive oil and date-honey; a Land where you will eat bread without poverty, where you will lack nothing; a Land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper.
Rashbam explains: You will not eat stale bread like poor people. And in addition to the wheat and barley which the Land produces, you will also enjoy vineyards and their products, and pomegranates, as well as honey derived from dates which are sweet.
Sforno points out: It is a Land which is the confluence of numerous good, desirable qualities not found together in other districts of the globe. Each of the five qualities are introduced with the word Eretz (Land):
1) A Land with streams, springs and fountains: not water from polluted rivers or static ponds.
2) A Land of wheat and barley: crops which produce basic foods.
3) A Land of olive oil and date-honey: products fit for the palate of a king.
4) A Land where you will eat bread without poverty: where money can be found cheaply, a Land full of treasures.
5) A Land whose rocks are iron: The stones contain iron, a useful metal, or whose stones are strong as iron, providing excellent building materials.
Sforno continues: Dearth of money is more serious than shortage of the products which can be bought with it, as we know from the Talmud Taanit 19a-b
The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the phrase “Makat Batzoret” An affliction of food shortage? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A period of forty days between one rainfall and the next is “an affliction that leads to food shortage.” In this regard, Rav Naḥman said: When crops do not grow in one place due to lack of rain and must be imported by means of one river to another river, this is considered “Batzoret”, food shortage. If produce must be brought from one province to another province, this is considered a “Ra’av” famine.
The Gemara continues: Rabbi Ḥanina said: If a se’a (volume of 144 eggs) of grain is sold for a sela (silver coin with the weight of 384 barleycorns of silver), but the wheat is plentiful, this is considered a “Batzoret”, food shortage. Although prices have risen, there is still grain for those who can afford it. However, if four se’a of grain is sold for a sela, and the wheat is not plentiful, this is considered a “Ra’av”, famine.
Rabbi Yoḥanan said: They taught this only with regard to a time when money is cheap and everyone has it, and produce is expensive. However, when money is expensive, i.e., unavailable, and produce is cheap, they cry out about it immediately, as this is considered a Ra’av, famine. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: I remember when four se’a of produce were sold for one sela (the normal price) and yet there were many swollen from hunger in Tiberias, as they did not have even one issar (small coin 1/96 of a sela) with which to purchase food.”
Although in Israel today we have plenty of grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and date-honey, for the most part Israel has not been growing wheat or barley. Instead, they have been importing their flour from Eastern Europe. With the war in the Ukraine and global food prices rising, we are now relying on foreign grain and we are at the mercy of others.
The dispute over the price of bread in Israel seems to never let up. On the one hand, the government wants to keep the basic bread prices down, making it look like there is no poverty. On the other hand, most Israelis, including the poorer populations prefer to buy other types of bread such as pita and would benefit from government grants rather than discounts on bread that they don’t eat. In addition, in the big scheme of things, it isn’t the bread that is expensive. The poorer communities need help with gas, electric and other larger bills in order to make ends meet.
For now, the government decided to slightly raise the prices of the controlled bread and later in the year they will raise the prices again. This way, they won’t look too bad before the November elections.
Each government is willing to significantly raise the prices of almost everything while the bread remains sacred, probably due to the verse: “a Land where you will eat bread without poverty.”
Maybe we need to once again grow our grains in house in the Modern State of Israel. This will help provide more jobs in Israel as well as help the state become more self reliant. We also need to help the poorer segments with more than a few shekels savings on a loaf of bread.