It takes a great deal of effort to prepare food. Animals eat their food raw, in its natural state, but this is insufficient for man, whose nature is far more refined and complex. Man must produce his own food. First he must prepare the ground. He must remove the stones, and then plow, plant, weed, and prune. Yet even after the wheat has ripened, it is still not fit to be eaten. In order to obtain the edible kernels, he must thresh and winnow. Even then, the grains remain inedible until they are cooked. To make bread, he must go further: He must grind the kernels, remove the chaff, sift the flour, knead the dough, and bake it.
Had Adam not sinned, food preparation would have been effortless and simple. Man would have gone into the field, plucked delicious baked goods and rich foods off the trees, and eaten them (see Kiddushin 82a.). If he felt like it, he could work a bit in the field and season his food to taste. The Sages inform us that in the future, after we have rectified Adam’s sin, we will return to this state (Shabbat 30b). Delicious baked goods and pretty clothes will grow on trees in Eretz Yisrael. But in the meantime, man must toil and struggle in order to produce even a single loaf of bread. This accords with God’s statement to Adam after the sin: “The land is cursed on your account. In sorrow you will eat from it all the days of your life. It will bring forth thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread until you return to the ground” (Bereishit 3:17-19).
The sin caused all of nature to deteriorate, and what grows from the earth is often insufficiently pure and evolved to consume in its natural state. Man must perform many steps to turn the earth’s produce into edible food. But on Shabbat we ascend to a level that approaches the World to Come; we connect to a level beyond sin, beyond the need to work in order to improve the world. This enables us to understand the inner significance of all melakhot. With this knowledge we can improve the world.
There are eleven melakhot connected to growing food: sowing (Zore’a), plowing (Ĥoresh), reaping (Kotzer), gathering (Me’amer), threshing (Dash), winnowing (Zoreh), separating (Borer), grinding (Toĥen), sifting (Meraked), kneading (Lash), and cooking/baking (Bishul/Ofeh).
Three additional melakhot are necessary to produce animal-based foods: trapping (Tzad), slaughtering (Shoĥet), and skinning (Mafshit). We will begin with the melakha of Bishul, as it is most relevant to us today.