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Parshat - Shelach

Thursday, 7 June, 2018 - 1:44 pm

After the story of the 12 spies who visited the land of Canaan, came back and (ten of them) gave a bad report, and caused the Jews to be stranded in the desert for 40 years, the Torah (in this week’s Parsha, Shlach) gives us several Mitzvot, including the Mitzvah of Challah.   The word Challah is usually associated with the (most commonly) braided bread that we eat on Shabbat and holidays, but this Mitzvah refers to something more. The translation of the word Challah is “loaf.” During the time when the Temple stood, in the land of Israel, anyone who baked bread was obligated to give a “Challah” – loaf of bread to a kohen (a member of the priestly family, the descendants of Aharon). The written Torah does not state a size or weight for the loaf, but the Sages established a standard amount of 1/24th of the dough for a private baker, and 1/48th of the dough for a commercial baker. The loaf is ideally separated as dough before it is baked, and the Torah tells us that it should be “the first of the dough,” meaning it is set aside for the kohen before we take any for ourselves.

After the Temple was destroyed, in order that we not forget about this Mitzvah, the Sages established an obligation to separate Challah from our dough wherever we may be, in Israel or in the rest of the world. However, the Rabbinic Mitzvah was set up a little differently. In order to eat the Challah, which is sacred food, the kohen had to be in a state of Tahara – loosely translated as ritual purity. The Challah itself also had to be in a state of Tahara, and any challah that became Tamei (ritually impure) had to be burned.   Since today we are all in a state of Tumah - loosely translated as ritual impurity - and cannot eat the sacred bread of Challah, and the Challah always has to be burned. The Sages therefore did not enforce the standardized amounts I mentioned above. We take a small amount of dough and burn or destroy it.

This beautiful Mitzvah that shows our recognition of Hashem’s blessings as the source of our food, is an obligation for both men and women. However, the Torah gave women the prerogative on this Mitzvah, as with Shabbat candle lighting and the laws of Mikvah and Family Purity, and typically women are the ones who separate the Challah. There is a special blessing made before the Challah separation, thanking Hashem for the Mitzvah to separate Challah. There is a minimum amount of dough that requires the Mitzvah to be fulfilled. If dough is made with more than 3 lbs. 11 oz. of flour, then there is the full obligation to separate Challah with the blessing. If the dough contains less than that amount but more than 2 lbs. 11 ozs., Challah is separated without a blessing, and challah is not separated if the dough is smaller than that.

A Jewish bakery also must separate Challah, and many people buy commercial Challah for Shabbat. There are many women, however, who make a point of baking their own Challah, in order to fulfill this great Mitzvah. The Mitzvah of Challah is a part of the greater Mitzvah of sanctifying our food and making sure it is appropriate to eat according to the laws of the Torah. What we ingest has an impact on our bodies and our souls. Just as good food is necessary for our bodies to function well, food that is prepared according to the laws of Kashrut enhance our soul’s ability to express itself fully and enables us to fulfill our mission of making the physical world a home for Hashem.

There are many more details of this Mitzvah, and I encourage you to study more about it. You can start here. May we soon merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and once again share our bread with the kohanim.

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