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The Mitzvah of Challah Laws, Customs, and Reasons

This week’s article is sponsored by Fred and Judy Farbman in memory of Fred’s brother Shmuel Moshe ben Yitzchak HaKohen.

Parsha Halacha – Parshat Shelach (Korach in Israel)

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen
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Monday Night Parsha Shiur on the Topic of Separating Challah
This week’s Zoom Parsha class on Monday night at 9 pm is sponsored by Yaakov Coopersmith in honor of his grandfathers and namesake’s 120th birthday – Jacob Yaakov ben Shmuel Coopersmith. Please email me at rabbicitron@hotmail.com if you would like to be invited.
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Likutei Torah Bytes Sponsorship for Next Week
The Likutei Torah bytes of Sunday and Monday are sponsored by Shmuel Aaron & Malka Forshner in honor of the Rebbe & Rebbetzin coming to America and in honor of the wedding of Rivka Cohen & Simcha Finkelstein. This Wednesday’s Likutei Torah Byte is sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Benchimol in memory of Sholom Dovber ben Iosef. May his neshamah have an aliyah.
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In the Torah portion of Shelach we read about the Mitzvah of Challah (Numbers 15:17-21) as the Torah says,
וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃ דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה׃ וְהָיָה בַּאֲכָלְכֶם מִלֶּחֶם הָאָרֶץ תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה לַה׳׃ רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה כִּתְרוּמַת גֹּרֶן כֵּן תָּרִימוּ אֹתָהּ׃ מֵרֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵיכֶם תִּתְּנוּ לַיהוָה תְּרוּמָה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם.
“The L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to the L-rd. As the first of your dough, you shall set aside a loaf as a gift; you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to the L-rd from the first of your dough throughout the ages.”
Flow of the Torah Portion
The Torah portion of Shelach begins with the fateful story of the spies.  This resulted in a decree which left the Jewish people wandering the desert for 40 years (Numbers, chapters 13 and 14). It then discusses the laws of the libations offered on the altar in conjunction with the sacrifices (ibid 15:1-16). Next the parsha discusses the mitzvah of separating Challah (quoted above). Following thatt there  is a discussion about sin offerings, beginning with the sacrifice brought for one who serves idols inadvertently (ibid, verse 26-31).
What is the connection between the three concepts?
Studying in Preparation to Enter the Land
The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anit 4:5) says that when the spies returned from spying the land, they found the Jewish people studying the laws of Orlah (the prohibition to eat the fruit of the first three years) and Challah. (Some versions of the Jerusalem Talmud have it that they were studying the laws of libations instead of the laws of Orlah.) This study was to prepare them for what was supposed to be, their imminent entry into the land of Israel.  These laws apply exclusively in the land of Israel as indicated by the following verses: Regarding the libations, the verse (Numbers 15:2) says, “When you arrive in the Land of your dwelling place, which I am giving you.”  Regarding Orlah, the verse (Levit. 19:23) says, “When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree…” And regarding Challah, the verse [quoted above] says, “ When you enter the land to which I am taking you.”
(The idea of studying the laws of the land of Israel before moving there is a good practice followed by many sages. See Pardes Yosef ot 151.)
The spies derisively questioned them,  “You’re not going into the land [as they believed it was impossible to conquer the land], and you’re studying these laws?” Wanting to reassure them that after the 40-year decree was over, their children would in fact enter the land, Moshe went back to teaching them these laws (Pardes Yosef). This explains why the laws of libations and Challah are included here.
Alternatively, it has been suggested that Moshe was teaching them these laws so that at least they could  study them as they would have the opportunity to observe them (the Gerrer Rebbe quoted in Pardes Yosef). This is based on the concept that if one cannot fulfill a mitzvah, one should learn about it, and G-d credits him with its observance (see Menachot 110a).
A Blessing to the Dough
The Seforno writes that after the sin of the spies it was necessary for the Jews to do an extra mitzvah in order to bring a blessing to their dough. (Had the Jewish people not sinned with the spies, they would have been on such an elevated level that their bread would have automatically been holy.) A similar concept is found in the book of Kings I, chapter 17. It was during a famine that  Elijah the Prophet instructed a widow to bake him a cake with the last of her flour and oil. This mitzvah brought a blessing to the jug of flour and jug of oil, and miraculously their contents did not run out for the duration of the famine.  In the words of Elijah the Prophet, “Do not fear… but first make for me a small cake from there and bring it out to me, and for you and your son make last. For thus has spoken the L-rd, G-d of Israel, ‘The pitcher of flour shall not end nor will the flask of oil be diminished until the day the L-rd gives rain upon the land.’”
Eating Can be like a Bringing a Sacrifice or Like Serving an Idol
The mitzvah of Challah is performed on bread which has always been the  staple food of mankind and represents the general concept of eating. As such, the placing of the laws of Challah between the sections about the libations in the Beit HaMikdash and (lehavdil) the prohibition of serving idols alludes to the contrasting ways in which a person can eat. One who eats in a holy manner is considered as if he brought an offering (with its libations) in the Beit HaMikdash.  By contrast, one who eats in a gluttonous manner is considered as if he had worshipped idols. (see Pirkei Avot 3:3.)
The same applies to other physical pleasures. When done for the sake of Heaven, they are sanctified, but when done hedonistically, they are spiritually degrading. The Torah alludes to this as  sometimes the term “eating bread” is used to refer to other pleasures of the flesh. See Rashi on Gen. 39:6.
Challah Is the Antidote to Idol Worship
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:5) explains  the juxtaposition of the sections about Challah and idol worship,  that if one separates Challah, it is considered as if one nullified idol worship. One who fails to separate Challah, on the other hand,  is considered to have established idol worship.
Why is separating Challah considered like nullifying idol worship? On a deeper level, a person who believes that G-d created everything but set up the forces of nature to operate independently of Him is considered to be an idol worshiper. One who believes this would not be inclined to thank G-d for his dough (or his other accomplishments), as he credits himself and the forces of nature with his successes. By separating Challah and thanking G-d for the dough, we acknowledge that His power that makes everything happen. In this way, we repudiate even the slightest vestige of idol worship (Likutei Sichot vol. 18 pg. 183 and on).
The First of Your Bed
The word  עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם (your dough) can also be translated as “your beds.” (עֲרִיסָה means crib in Hebrew.) As such, the verse can be understood to mean that the first thing one should do when rising in the morning is to serve G-d (by praying and studying Torah). Along these lines, the Sanzer Rebbe exhorted the young yeshiva students to get up and study Torah as soon as they awoke rather than going back to sleep even for a short time (Pardes Yosef ot 170).
In addition, giving the first of one’s “bed” to G-d alludes to sanctifying one’s marital bed by being intimate only in a holy manner. (Pardes Yosef citing various Chassidic sources.)
Teach Them When They Are Young
The Chatam Sofer also teaches that the words רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם (the first of your dough) can be interpreted to mean “the first of your crib.”  He explains it to mean that  one should sanctify one’s children to study Torah as soon as they emerge from their cribs. Even though only a small percentage of those who enter Cheder will truly excel in Torah study, we must put in an effort with every child so that they each achieve their potential. In addition, one should consider that his child may be in the one percentile who can become a true Torah giant. That one Torah scholar goes on to elevate his entire generation just as the terumat ma’aser (one of the tithes) which is only one percent of the grain, elevates all of the produce. In addition, such a child will sanctify Jewish children for many generations to come as his teachings will be repeated even after his passing. This is alluded to in the verse by the word לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם,  for all generations.
The Reason for the Mitzvah of Challah
The Sefer HaChinuch writes (Mitzvah 385):
“The basis of this mitzvah is that since the sustenance of a person comes through food and most of the world is sustained by bread, G-d desired to give us merit with a constant mitzvah in our bread, so that blessing should rest upon it through this mitzvah. Through it, we will receive merit for our souls. Thus the dough is food for our body as well as food for our soul.
“Additionally, it is in order that the servants of G-d, the Kohanim, who are constantly involved in His service, should be sustained without any toil at all. Whereas with the tithe of the threshing floor (Terumah) there is labor for them, to pass the grain through the sieve and to grind it; here their portion will come to them without any hardship whatsoever.”
Understanding the Verses
Let us examine some of the verses regarding Challah explained by the commentaries and some of the laws derived from the words therein:
  •  When you enter the land. Rashi says this phrase indicates the mitzvah of Challah  begins as soon as the Jewish people enter the land and not after they finished conquering and dividing it. In this respect the mitzvah of Challah differs from most other agricultural mitzvot which took effect only after the conquest and division of the land.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni (Remez 748) says that Moshe was telling the Jewish people to accept upon themselves the fulfillment of  this mitzvah and in its merit they would enter the land
  • The Panim Yafot points out that the Midrash says a similar thing regarding the mitzvah of Bikurim, the first fruits that were brought to the Beit Hamikdash.  In the merit of resolving to bring Bikurim we would merit to enter the land.  The obligation for Challah began as soon as the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, while the mitzvah of Bikurim  only came into effect after the land had been conquered and divided.  For this reason the merit of accepting both of them was critical. In the merit of resolving to give Challah, the Jewish people merited to enter the land while in the merit of resolving to give Bikkurim they merited to conquer and divide the land.
  • Bread of the land. The word “bread” indicates that this mitzvah only applies to the five grains that produce bread as defined by the Torah.  These are wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye. A loaf made out of these grains is considered “bread” for the purpose of the blessings of bread (Hamotzie), the mitzvah of Matzah, the prohibition of eating Chametz, the Lechem Mishnah loaves on Shabbat, and more. (Menachot 70b).
  • In addition, the word “bread” teaches us that this mitzvah only applies if the grain is processed into bread (or cakes). But not to porridge and other cooked grain products (ibid).
  • Since the word “bread” is used, we learn that if one forgot to separate Challah from the dough, one may separate it from the bread after it is baked (Sifri).
  • Rabeinu BaChaye points out that the term “bread of the land” is used to contrast the bread that grows from the ground with the Manna which was the “bread of the heaven” from which it was not necessary to separate Challah. (Based on the above explanations, the reason for this is that the Manna is clearly from G-d and there is no need to remind ourselves of this.)
  •  The first of your dough. This expression teaches us that the mitzvah of Challah only applies when one kneads dough equivalent in size to the daily portion of Mannah received by each Jew  in the desert. The words “your dough”  alludes to the daily portion of manna of which had a volume of 43.33 eggs (Eiruvin 83b). This is the same gematriyah (numerical value) as the word חלה, Challah (Shach Y.D. 324:2). According to Chabad custom one should separate Challah without a bracha if using between 2 lb. 11 ozs and 3 lbs. 11 ozs. of flour and with a bracha if using more than 3 lbs. 11 ozs. (Spice and Spirit Cookbook, edited by Rabbi Y.K. Marlow).
  • The first of your dough teaches us that it is only obligatory to separate Challah once it has been made into dough and not beforehand (Talmud Yerushalmy Challah 3:1).
  • From the first of your dough teaches us that one cannot make one’s entire dough into Challah but must leave some for themselves (Talmud Yerushalmi, Challah 1:6).
  • You shall make a gift to the L-rd teaches us that one must give a respectable amount (Rashi).
  • Based on this, the Noda BiYehudah says (Mahadura Tinyana Y.D. 204) that, although by Torah law one may separate any amount as Challah, when it comes to giving it to the Kohen, it is obligatory to give a respectable amount.  In ancient times it was necessary for a private person to give 1/24th of the dough to the Kohen while a baker would give 1/48th. Since the baker is making large quantities 1/48 of his dough will also be a respectable amount.
  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains (Likutei Sichot ibid) that since the baker is involved in earns his livelihood through bread,  he certainly sees the hand of G-d in a more clear way than one who bakes at home  The baker is acutely aware of the happenings in the agriculture and commerce sectors and he certainly sees G-d’s providence in them. As such he need not be reminded of G-d’s involvement to the same extent and the amount he must give for Challah is less than the home baker. (Nowadays when we are in a state of ritual impurity and the Challah is not given to the Kohen it is sufficient to separate the size of an olive.)
We will continue with these laws next week, G-d willing.
May we merit to Dedicate our best Efforts to G-d
Wishing you a Shabbat Shlom Umevorach!

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