Yitzaak the BakerPosted: December 26, 2011
Yitzaak the Baker
Come in, come in. You would like some bread today? Not bread, but a story? Simon sent you? Yes, you want to know about that night. Well come into my shop. I am Yitzaak the baker of Bethlehem. You know, Bethlehem means “house of bread.” So I am the baker of the house of bread. Perhaps you can excuse me while I work. I have a daily contract with the Inn to deliver 10 loaves. But we can visit, while I make the bread.
Well, let’s see. You want to know about the night Jesus was born. That was a busy time for me. I was helping my Uncle Eli then, may his memory be preserved for ever, and we were baking over two-hundred loaves of bread per day. It was the census. Curse the bloody Romans. Bethlehem was bursting at the seams. All sorts of high and mighty people wanted to claim ancestry from the Great King David. So the Inn was crowded with important people with money. We were delivering fifty loaves a day at the Inn alone. And what with all the other visitors, as fast as the loaves came out of the ovens, they were sold. That census brought Uncle Eli many shekels.
I was helping Uncle Eli with his ovens, because I could not be a shepherd. You see I was born lame, and I could not walk well enough to be a shepherd. So I was apprenticed to my Uncle to become a baker. In a small town like Bethlehem, a baker does not earn a lot of money, but for a lame boy like me, baking bread for others to buy, I could earn enough to live. Anyway we were especially busy because of the census ordered by the Romans. It was evening, and we were removing an oven full of bread. Uncle Eli was going to stay up half the night baking again in order to have enough loaves to sell the next morning. So he says to me, “Yitzaak we must deliver ten more loaves of bread to the Inn this evening. Quickly now, put ten loaves in a bag and hurry them over to the Inn Keeper as fast as you can.”
“As fast as you can,” I thought to myself. “No matter how hard I try, when other people look at me, all they see is a cripple.”
I gathered together the warm fresh loaves, filled a bag and began to hobble my way to the Inn. As I walked along that evening I noticed a bright star in the sky and wondered why I had been born different. I hated my crippled leg. It had always set me apart from the other boys. Sometimes people would stare at me and worse make fun of me and the way I walked. Worst of all some people said my lameness was the result of sin my parents had committed and I was cursed because of it. I had asked the Rabbi, if this was so and he answered me, “why else would a just God afflict an innocent child, if not to punish some hidden sin of the parents.” I had resolved that if God had cursed me before I was even born, then it was no use praying to him. And so I grew up hating God and myself. But that night on the way to the Inn with the smell of fresh baked loaves over my shoulder, and a beautiful new star in the sky I wondered if God had truly cursed me. But then as the Rabbi had said, “why else would God afflict the innocent, if not to punish some hidden sin.” So I continued on weighed down by my bag of bread but mostly bending under the weight of my curse.
Levi the Inn Keeper was happy to see me. “Yitzaak,” he said, “I was going to send for you. I have customers waiting.”
I laid the bag full of bread on a table. “Uncle Eli wants to know, when you will be paying him for the last two days of bread.”
“Tomorrow,” he replied, “tomorrow without fail. I have many wealthy guests tonight.”
“By the way,” I asked, “is Miriam working tonight?”
“Yes,” Levi responded, “she is serving tables now.”
Miriam was one of the prettiest girls in town, at least as far as I was concerned, and I invented all manner of excuses in order to see her. But so far she hadn’t noticed me.
From the kitchen I limped into the large and overcrowded serving room. Levi was correct, he did have many rich and important guests that evening. As I tried to make my way across the room, a Roman Centurion eying my limp reach out his foot and tripped me. As I fell to the floor, the Roman soldier said to his friends, “the flower of Israel falls in the dust. No wonder these stupid people need us to run their country.”
I felt anger and shame rise in my throat. I wanted to pick up a knife and kill the Centurion. But I knew the gesture would be foolish, so I simply rose without saying a word and found myself standing face to face with Miriam. “You are embarrassing us,” she whispered, “why don’t you leave.”
I was crushed. First I had been shamed by the Romans in front of a room full of people, and then the one girl I wanted to impress asked me to leave. As fast as I could, I left the Inn, even as the tears were filling my eyes. Life can be cruel to someone who is different, and early in my life, when the other children would make fun of me I had sought comfort from animals. Animals did not tease me, and for a few handfuls of hay they would listen to me, even appreciate me. So as I left the Inn in tears, I went to be alone with the animals in the stable.
Excuse me, I can smell that the bread in the oven is ready. I will return shortly.
Nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread. Food for the body and the soul I always say. Now where was I? Yes at the stable.
I entered the cave and with only the dim reflection of star light and began to make out the forms of the animals huddled together for warmth. I searched for an old donkey kept by the Inn Keeper named Baruch. I had known Baruch for many years. Levi had allowed me to use Baruch on several occasions, and the donkey and I were fond of each other. I found Baruch lying down in his customary corner and began to stroke his head and neck as I told him of my anger and hurt. Although donkeys can be stubborn, they are very understanding and affectionate. As I sat with Baruch I was comforted.
I had sat in the darkness perhaps half an hour, when Levi entered the stable leading a man and a woman. The lamp Levi carried was small, and I was concealed in the shadows of the cave. Levi spread some fresh straw in another corner of the cave away from the animals and said, “it’s not much, but you can stay here. I’ll come out later to check on you.”
The woman was moving very slowly and as she lay down in the straw, I heard her cry out in pain. The man spread a blanket over her and sat down reassuring her everything would be alright. It was apparent to me the woman was going to have a baby. I felt sorry for her.
Softly I rose, stepped out of the shadows and said, “Hello, my name is Yitzaak.” The man jumped and almost knocked over the lamp beside him. We stared at each other for a long moment and I said again, “My name is Yitzaak, is there anything I can do to help?”
“My name is Yoseph ben Yacob, a carpenter from Nazareth. My wife, Mary, you see it is her time; we had to come because of the taxes.”
“May God grant you many sons,” I replied. “I have no home of my own, where I can offer you shelter, but can I bring you anything to make you more comfortable here?”
“You are kind,” said Yospeh. “We are hungry and have but little food.”
“That is easy,” I replied, “I am a baker, and I will bring you fresh loaves from the oven. Be patient and I will return.”
As I turned to leave, Yoseph called after me, “May God bless you and if you have a blanket or a cloth in which to wrap the child, I will bless you to the end of my days.”
As I walked back to the bakery I forgot about my own sorrows as I thought about Mary and Yoseph in the stable. God had certainly not been kind to them. He brought them a long, long way from home to a stable to have their baby. I thought about Levi who could not find room in his Inn for them, and how everyone who worked at the Inn would be too busy with the rich people to help a poor woman having her baby.
“Where have you been?” asked Uncle Eli, as I entered the door of the bakery.
“Uncle,” I said, “I have been helping a man and a woman from Nazareth. They are in town for the taxes and have no place to stay and the woman is having a baby right now in the stable of the Inn. And they are hungry, and I promised to bring them some bread.”
“Oh you did, did you,” said Uncle Eli. “And whose bread are you going to take to them?”
“Uh, can I have two loaves?” I asked. “I feel so sorry for them, and I’ll do extra work.”
Uncle Eli was really a kindly man, and so he said, “‘Blessed is he who remembers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble.’ Hurry up and help me take the bread from the oven, then take them three loaves. That way you don’t have to go back in the morning, when I need you in the shop.”
We removed the loaves from the oven and set them out to cool. Then I quickly swept the shop, gathered three loaves in a bag and hurried as fast as I could back to the stable. By the time I arrived at the entrance to the cave, I could hear the tiny cries of an infant. Yoseph was cleaning the baby with straw. I handed him my own blanket to wrap the child, and then took some bread to Mary. She was tired, cold and hungry, and accepted the bread gladly.
“My uncle Eli makes good bread,” I said, “the staff of life.”
“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” said Yosef as he handed the newly wrapped child to Mary.
“On the other hand,” I said, “a man does not live for very long without it.”
Yoseph laughed and sat down to eat his bread. We sat in the stillness listening to the wind outside the cave. The silence was heavy. The darkness all but overwhelmed the tiny flickering lamp. Then, suddenly, the cave was filled with the light of four torches as a group of Shepherds came running into the stable. “This is the place,” cried one of them.
“The vision of the angels was true,” gasped another shepherd.
Yoseph stood up in alarm, and began to ask the shepherds questions. As my eyes adjusted to the light I began to recognize them: Micah, Joel, Bartholomew, James, even Daniel my cousin. They told a strange story of a vision of angels telling them to seek for a child born in the stable, who would be the Messiah.
When the Shepherds finished their story, Yoseph muttered, “the same message as the angel in my dream.”
“What dream, friend Yoseph?” I asked.
“In Nazareth,” he said, “an angel came to me in dream and told me that this child was to be the Messiah. I thought it was only an idle dream, but it must have been a true vision from God. The Angel said to name the child, ‘Immanuel, God with us.’
Excuse me, that is my wife Elishevah calling. Let me go see what she wants. I will only be a short time.
Thank you for waiting. She needed help with her loom. Fine woman God gave me in Elishevah. Let’s see, I left off with Yoseph telling me that the angel had said to name the child Immanuel.
I pondered what Yoseph said. I knew cousin Daniel to be a truthful man. But how could this baby born of poor parents eating my bread be the Messiah? And if this child was God’s chosen one, then why had I been cursed by God? As the shepherds began to leave, against my will, tears began to form in my eyes. Here was God’s chosen one, and I was still Yitzaak the cursed. As the tears dribbled down my face, I heard the soft voice of Mary beside me.
“What troubles you, friend Yitzaak?”
“This child is God’s chosen one, and I am Ytizaak the lame; Yitzaak the cursed. Sometimes it is too much to bear,” I cried.
“Yitzaak,” soothed Mary, “you may be lame, but you are not cursed. God has blessed you with a good and kind heart and that is what matters. God’s ways are mysterious. The shepherds brought wonderful news tonight, yet we are still resting in a cold and dark cave. Jesus is wrapped in your borrowed blanket. Who can understand, but Yitzaak, I tell you, you are a blessing.”
My tears stopped as I gazed into the soft lines of Mary’s face. I felt a warmth inside of me I had not felt before. I heard Joseph recite the blessing for bread: “Barukh attah Adonai eloheynu melekh ha’olam hammotsi lechem min ha’arets. Blessed are you O Lord our God King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”
That night my life changed. I didn’t understand what was happening all at once. But I was blessed, for the Lord preserved my life to see Jesus grow up to adulthood. I heard him with my own ears preach and teach, and when he rose from the dead, I was there in Jerusalem. I even baked the bread he used at the Last Supper with his disciples – the bread to remind us of his flesh I made with my hands, even as I made the bread to feed his parents on that first Christmas night. “Yitzaak, I tell you, you are a blessing.” And all of you can be a blessing too. Just remember it’s what God gives you in your heart that counts, and what you give to others makes you a blessing. When you share the bread tonight, remember the story of Yitzaak, and become a blessing for others.