What is the reason for the unique shape of the Lechem Hapanim? I am aware of Rashi's explanation citing the mishna in Menachos 11:4 for the reason of its name is accredited to the multiple surfaces it possessed.

After a little bit of "Googling" I was led to a Chabad.org article speaking about the matter and I found this image of that summarizes Machlokes Rishonim regarding the understanding of the Machlokes in the Gemara of the shape of the Lechem Hapanim (From the Chabad.org article cited above):

Diagrams of four possible shapes of Lechem Hapanim, all with sides pointing up

Is there anyone who writes about the reason for the uniqueness of shape possesed by the Lechem Hapanim1?

1 Additionally I happened to notice regarding that the shape of the Lechem Hapanim is particularly non-convex in shape I am curious if there could be a reason for this, but am unsure of the legitimacy of asking about that more than the reason for its shape in a general sense.

  • I thought it was so it would face a certain side of the Temple -- maybe North, where the Holy of Holies was? Or is this what you already alluded to in your question?
    – SAH
    Mar 6, 2017 at 10:07

2 Answers 2


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains (Exodus 25:29) that the bread was primarily designed to support the other pieces of bread. From this we can learn the importance of giving much of our own material wealth to others.

This shape according to רבי חנינא whose tradition has the most to be said for it (See Menachoth 94b and תוספות ibid) was a flat surface with both ends turned upwards...and the length of the two upstanding walls together equalled --or according to ר"מ nearly equalled --the length of the base. This shape made each loaf offer as much or nearly as much--for the purpose of bearing the next loaf (they were ranged on the Table in two stacks of six loaves each) as it used for its own base!


That every man acquires and holds as much for others as for himself, grants as much, or nearly as much of the abundance of his table to his neighbour as to his own table. (More, according to the other tradition כמין ספינה רוקדת each loaf only gave of fortieth of its length to a narrow base, and with all the rest of it stretched gradually up to support the next loaf lying on it.)


LECHEM HAPANIM By Raphael Grunfeld

Twelve loaves of bread lay on the shulchan in the Temple sanctuary. These twelve loaves were a source of sustenance for the twelve tribes of Israel. The shulchan, in the north, which signified wealth, faced the menorah, the symbol of Torah, in the south. The message was clear. As long as we keep the Torah close while we work for a living, we have God’s blessing that we will not be shamed into dependence on other humans. The lechem hapanim, the showbread, allows us to show our faces in public. He will always look after us if we look after His Torah.

Some say the lechem hapanim was shaped like an open box, with no lid and open on two sides. Others say it was triangular in shape, like the hull of a ship on stormy waters. Either way, the lechem hapanim signified the lack of security and the fragility of success that typify the struggle for livelihood.

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