In Miketz 42,2 it is written:

וַיֹּאמֶר--הִנֵּה שָׁמַעְתִּי, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; רְדוּ-שָׁמָּה וְשִׁבְרוּ-לָנוּ מִשָּׁם, וְנִחְיֶה וְלֹא נָמוּת

The translation according to Machon Mamre is

And he said: 'Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt. Get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.'

Why is corn called שבר? Isn't שבר something broken?

I am not looking for Midrashim based on the word, but rather for a direct etymological answer based on the word itself.

  • 1
    Note that corn is a North American grain. However 'corn' was an older term for grain that was adopted to refer to "corn".
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2017 at 15:56
  • Maybe it also means food. Words can have multiple meanings; particularly if they stem from roots in different languages.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2017 at 15:58
  • To clarify, are you looking for Midrashim that expound upon the word, or are you looking for the actual reason why grain is called shever? I would certainly assume the latter, but some assume the former: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/78635/….
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:50
  • I assume the latter Jan 1, 2017 at 22:21
  • 1
    I see the answers, below. But, perhaps, on a "simpler" level, bread was considered the main food staple, as it has been for millenia. Perhaps the origin of "breaking bread" eminated from this concept of calling grain / bread "breakage".
    – DanF
    Jan 1, 2017 at 22:47

3 Answers 3


Food is not called shever, as production or benefit may be grain, despite that grain is not called production or benefit.

See Rashi Genesis 41, 56:

שבר לשון מכר ולשון קנין הוא, כאן משמש לשון מכר, שברו לנו מעט אוכל, לשון קנין. ואל תאמר אינו כי אם בתבואה, שאף ביין וחלב מצינו, ולכו שברו בלא כסף ובלא מחיר יין וחלב (ישעיה נה, א.):‏

See also Ibn Ezra:

‏ וטעמו קנין

Ibn Ezra and Rashi explained that the word shever means "property", and Rashi says that here the contextual meaning is merchandise, goods, {btw, properties literal translation in French is goods "biens"}. Rashi specifies that in some verses this word is not linked to grain, and may refer to milk or wine. But it is interesting that in the verse in Yeshaya 55 quoted by Rashi the shever is also food or drink.


Note that there are meforshim who explain this as "goods food sold at retail". which is why Yosef is called hamashbir (the retail distributor) which is the name of a supermarket chain in Israel. That is the food is available to individual families in Egypt.

For example Rav Hirsch translates as

See, I have heard that there is sale in retail in Egypyt


The Radak to 41:56 (and 42:19) harmonizes this by saying that the word שבר means the grains and the harvest bought at times of famine that “breaks” someone’s hunger.

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