Rav Kook on HaMotzi: For All Times

Rav Kook on HaMotzi: For All Times

This excerpt from “Gold from the Land of Israel” by Rabbi Chanan Morrison is a textual analysis of the word “HaMotzi” as it is found in Exodus 6:7, based on the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. The author analyzes a Talmudic discussion as to whether the word “HaMotzi” is in past or future tense, which has significant implications on the deeper meaning of the blessing over bread and how it reflects one’s concept of God. Ideal for those with a basic understanding of Hebrew grammar and rabbinic literature, this piece may be interesting to those seeking a deeper understanding of the words of the HaMotzi blessing. Rabbi Kook (1865-1935) was a prominent Torah scholar and Kabbalist (Jewish mystic), founder of the Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva, and the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine.

Hamotzi – For all Times

It was definitely the low point in Moses’ mission to free the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh responded to the demand for freedom by adding more oppressive measures, and the Israelites began to wish that Moses had never come. Even Moses had his doubts. In response, God commanded Moses to relay the following message to the Israelites:

“You will know that I am the Lord your God, the One who brings you out (ha-motzi) from under the Egyptian subjugation.” (Ex. 6:7)

Hamotzi — Past or Future?

The tense of the verb ‘ha-motzi’ here is unclear. The Israelites have not yet been freed. Why say, ‘who brings you out’? The future tense, ‘who will bring you out,’ would make more sense.

The word ‘ha-motzi’ brings to mind the blessing recited before eating bread. The Talmud (Berachot 38a) records a debate regarding this blessing. Rabbi Nehemiah felt the blessing should read, “Blessed are You … Who brought forth (motzi) bread from the earth.” But the other sages argued that the blessing should be “the One Who brings forth (ha-motzi) bread from the earth” — as in our verse.

What is the difference between motzi and ha-motzi?

The Talmud explains that this disagreement in based on how the verse in Exodus should be understood. According to Rabbi Nehemiah, the word ‘ha-motzi’ implies the future. The Jews were still slaves in Egypt, and God assured them that He would take them out in the future. The future tense, however, is not appropriate for the blessing over bread. We recite this blessing in recognition of the wheat that has already come out of the earth. The word ‘motzi’, on the other hand, refers to the past, and is therefore more suitable.

Rabbi Nehemiah’s colleagues felt that the word ha-motzi implies both the past and the future. They understood the verse as follows: the Israelites will be freed (in the future), after which they will recognize God as their Liberator (in the past). Since ha-motzi also includes past events, it is also appropriate for the blessing over bread.

What is the essence of this disagreement? Is it simply an argument over Hebrew grammar? What is the significance of the blessing over bread being in the past or the future?

Contemplating God

There are two basic ways to attain love and awe of Heaven. The first approach is to contemplate God’s greatness by examining His works. Reflecting on His amazing creations allows one to appreciate God’s infinite wisdom and justice, and instills a tremendous longing to know God’s great Name (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:1).

The second approach maintains that intellectual reflection alone is insufficient. There must also be an emotional element. We need to awaken within ourselves love and awe for the Essence that creates these spectacular works.

Rabbi Nehemiah, by preferring the word motzi, concurred with the first approach. Before eating bread, we need to raise our intellectual awareness of the event that occurred: this bread was baked from wheat that God brought forth from the earth. The word motzi is a verb, referring to an event that has taken place. Rabbi Nehemiah stressed the importance of the past tense, since appreciation of God’s greatness is achieved by objectively analyzing God’s hand in history and past events.

The other scholars disagreed. The blessing should be ha-Motzi, “the One Who brings forth.” Ha-Motzi is not a verb but a descriptive phrase. We do not only observe the event itself, but we attempt to look beyond it to the Cause of the action. This is a supra-scientific, intuitive approach, relating to God according to His actions. The scholars held that the blessing over bread is not just a way of contemplating the process of wheat growing out of the earth. We must concentrate on the Source of this process, and form a corresponding mental image of God.

Beyond Time

Since this opinion stresses not the event but the Cause of the event, the framework of time becomes irrelevant. ‘Ha-motzi’ thus implies both past and future. This changes our understanding of God’s promise to the Israelites, “You will know that I am the Lord your God, the One who brings you out from under the Egyptian subjugation.” We now understand that the present tense is just as accurate as the past and the future. For all time, we will recognize God’s attribute of Ha-Motzi, the One who liberates us from slavery.

(“Gold from the Land of Israel” pp. 110-112. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 176-177)