The mitzvah of challah
TorahParshat Shlach

The mitzvah of challah

Numbers 13:1– 15:41

While the spies receive considerable attention in this week’s parsha, there also is an essential mitzvah that holds profound life lessons for us: the mitzvah of challah.

What is challah? While it’s commonly known as the special bread we enjoy for Shabbat, often braided or rounded for Rosh Hashanah, what does the term “challah” signify?

In this week’s parsha, we are commanded to set aside a portion of dough, known as “challah,” and give it to the kohen.

This is one of the 24 gifts bestowed upon the kohen, who represents G-d in the service in the Temple. (In contemporary times, due to ritual impurity, we burn the dough instead of presenting it to a kohen.)

So, how did our Shabbat bread come to be known by this name?

According to the Code of Jewish Law, Laws of Shabbat chapter 242, in honor of Shabbat one is encouraged to bake one’s own bread and fulfill the mitzvah of setting aside the dough. Consequently, the remaining dough baked at home for Shabbat receives the name of the mitzvah performed with a small portion of the batch.

Here are some insights and teachings from the Lubavitcher Rebbe regarding this mitzvah:

1. Elevating the physical: By separating a portion of dough and sanctifying it, we imbue holiness into our everyday activities, such as food preparation. While only a small portion is set aside, we refer to the whole batch as challah. This highlights that the entire batch can be utilized for holiness, transforming the entire batch into challah.

2. First things first: The Torah refers to challah as the “first of the dough.” The Hebrew word for dough, arisa, is similar to the Hebrew word for a cradle. This serves as a reminder that upon waking each morning, our initial act should be expressing gratitude to G-d, demonstrated through reciting the Modeh Ani prayer.

3. Unity: Challah is set aside only after the dough is thoroughly mixed. Before mixing, the flour consists of separate specks. When water is added, it unites the specks, forming one cohesive dough. This symbolizes the unity we bring to the world by infusing it with the presence of our
One G-d. Furthermore, giving away a portion teaches the importance of sharing with others and being mindful of the needs of the less fortunate. PJC

Rabbi Yisroel Altein is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. This column is a service of Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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