The prophet Yechezkel mentions the presents that people gave the Kohanim and writes:
וְרֵאשִׁ֤ית עֲרִסֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ תִּתְּנ֣וּ לַכֹּהֵ֔ן לְהָנִ֥יחַ בְּרָכָ֖ה אֶל־בֵּיתֶֽךָ
You shall further give the first of the yield of your baking to the priest, that a blessing may rest upon your home (Yechezkel 44:30)
Giving the tithes, with challah as one of them to the Kohen brings blessing to our home. In this article we will try to explain what makes challah such a special mitzvah. As a mitzvah that brings blessing, we should learn about the blessing said before doing this mitzvah. As we will see, the blessing also teaches us about the essence of the mitzvah.
The Source of the Mitzvah
When Am Yisrael, the Jewish People were in the desert, before they entered the Land of Israel, Hashem commanded the following:
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃ דַּבֶּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אַלֶּהֶם בְּבואָכֶם אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה׃ וְהָיָה בַּאֲכָלְכֶם מִלֶּחֶם הָאָרֶץ תָּרִימוּ תְּרוּמָה לַה’: רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסְתֶּכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְּרוּמָה כִּתְרוּמַת גֹּרֶן כֵּן תָּרִימוּ אֹתָהּ׃ מֵרֵאשִׁית עֲרִסְתֵּיכֶם תִּתְּנוּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָה לְדָורָתֶיכם׃
The Lord spoke to Moses, 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 Lord: as the first yield of your baking, 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 Lord from the first yield of your baking, throughout the ages. (Bemidbar 15:18-21)
From the moment we entered into the Land of Israel, we became obligated in the mitzvah of separating part of the bread and giving it as a terumah, a tithe for Hashem, by giving it to a Kohen.
The challah is compared to the other tithes as the pasuk, verse says: כתרומת גורן כן תרימו אותה you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. Therefore, the challah is holy and can only be eaten by a Kohen in purity.
When we come to actually separate the challah, it must be done from dough and not from flour, since the Torah says “עריסותיכם” meaning the dough. We say the blessing, that will be discussed later and separate the challah. Since today we are impure and the Kohanim can’t eat the challah in purity, there are two options for what to do with the challah after it’s separated:
1. To burn it
2. To wrap it twice and throw it out
Originally, the challah was burned, like every holy thing that becomes impure. There is an argument about which option is better these days. Because we aren’t allowed to eat the challah, if we burn it on a baking dish – it absorbs the flavor of something “assur,” forbidden. We can avoid this problem by wrapping the challah with a foil or putting it in the bottom of the oven. Some of the poskim are concerned that people won’t be precise about all the details. Therefore they say that wrapping the challah twice and throwing it away is the better option. On the other hand, some rabbis say that since we should burn the challah if we can’t eat it, it is still the better option these days. In some of the neighborhoods in Israel there are big containers of ‘Hafrashat Challah.’ Everyone who separates challah puts challah there and every few days the containers are emptied and the challah is burned.
There is an argument between the Rishonim over how to phrase the blessing for separating challah. Rambam (Bikkurim 5:11) writes that the blessing is “אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַפְרִישׁ חַלָּה.” Other Rishonim write that the blessing should be “אֲשֶׁר קִדַּשְׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו וְצִיּוּנוֹ לְהַפְרִישׁ תְּרוּמָה.” Ra’avad, in his comments on the Rambam says that in addition we should declare it to be challah by saying: “Harei zo Challah” (this is Challah). Tur (Yoreh Deah 328:1) brings both opinions and it seems that both are fine. Shulchan Aruch (Rabbi Yosef Karo 1488-1575) rules like the opinion to say “terumah” while Rema rules in favor of using the word “challah.” What are the reasons that lie behind this disagreement?
Smag (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Rav Moshe from Coucy 1200-1260) explains the reason for the latter opinion to say תרומה – terumah. In Hebrew, the dough is called “Isa”, the baked bread is called “challah” and the part we separate is called “terumah.” Since the blessing is the separated portion to the Kohen, we therefore say “Lehafrish terumah”(separate terumah).
Rav Eliezer Melamed (in Peninei Halacha) explains that the argument between the Rishonim is about whether biblical or rabbinic language is preferred for use in blessings. In the Torah, the part that is separated is called terumah:
וְהָיָה בַּאֲכָלְכֶם מִלֶּחֶם הָאָרֶץ תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה לַה’׃ רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה כִּתְרוּמַת גֹּרֶן כֵּן תָּרִימוּ אֹתָהּ׃. מֵרֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵיכֶם תִּתְּנוּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶֽם׃
On the other hand, in the language of our sages, the part that we separate is called “challah.” The Mishnah that teaches the laws of separating challah is called “masechet Challah.” The proponents of the custom to say “Lehafrish Challah” hold that the blessing is on the part that is given as a tithe and not on the whole dough. The difference between the opinions is if we use the term of the Torah – terumah, or the term of our sages and the Mishnah – challah.
We can bring another explanation to the argument based on the Pitchei Teshuva (YD 324:1). The Pitchei Teshuva in the name of the Noda BeYehudah states that there are two aspects to separating challah. The first aspect is the act of separating a small portion from the dough. The second aspect is the act of giving the challah as a present to the Kohen.
It’s possible that each opinion about the blessing emphasizes a different aspect in the mitzvah of separating challah. The opinion of saying “Lehafrish terumahh” emphasizes the action of separating since according to them lifting up a small portion of the dough is the essential action of the mitzvah. By taking out the terumah the separated portion becomes holy and the rest is not considered “Tevel.” Therefore the term terumah is used in the blessing to represent the new status of the part that was separated as a tithe. By contrast, the opinion of saying “Lehafrish Challah” emphasizes giving the challah to the Kohen. The goal of the mitzvah of challah is to make sure the Kohen has something to eat. That is why they use the term “challah” to represent the use of the separated portion. It is not just lifted, it is given to the Kohen as a present.
Reasons for the Mitzvah
Sefer Hachinuch (385) explains the reason for the mitzvah of challah as follows:
מִשָּׁרְשֵׁי הַמִּצְוָה: לְפִי שֶׁחַיּוּתוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם בִּמְזוֹנוֹת וְרֹב הָעוֹלָם יִחְיוּ בְּלֶחֶם, רָצָה הַמָּקוֹם לִזְכוּתֵנוּ בְּמִצְוָה תְּמִידִית בְּלַחֲמֵנוּ, כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּנוּחַ בְּרָכָה בּוֹ עַל יְדֵי הַמִּצְוָה וּנְקַבֵּל בָּהּ זְכוּת בְּנַפְשֵׁנוּ, וְנִמְצֵאת הָעִסָּה מָזוֹן לְגוּף וּמָזוֹן לְנֶפֶשׁ, וְגַם לְמַעַן יִחְיוּ בּוֹ מְשָׁרְתֵי הַשֵּׁם, הָעוֹסְקִים תָּמִיד בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ וְהֵם הַכֹּהֲנִים מִבְּלִי יְגִיעָה כְּלָל, שֶׁאִלּוּ בִּתְרוּמַת הַגֹּרֶן יֵשׁ לָהֶם עָמָל לְהַעֲבִיר הַתְּבוּאָה בִּכְבָרָה וּלְטַחָן אוֹתָהּ, אֲבָל כָּאן יָבוֹא חֻקָּם לָהֶם מִבְּלִי צַעַר שֶׁל כְּלוּם.
From the roots of the commandment: since the sustenance of a person is through food and most of the world will be sustained with bread, the Omnipresent desired to give us merit with a constant commandment in our bread, so that blessing should rest upon it through the commandment; and through it, we will receive merit for our souls. And hence it turns out that the dough is food for our body and food for our soul. Additionally, it is in order that the servants of God, those that are constantly involved in His service – and these are the priests – should be sustained without any toil at all. Whereas with the tithe of the threshing floor there is labor for them, to pass the grain through the sieve and to grind it; here, their ration will come to them without any pain whatsoever.
According to the Chinuch the mitzvah of separating challah has two goals:
1. As a merit for Am Yisrael, by fulfilling a mitzvah constantly through basic food. In this way the food becomes food for both body and soul.
2. To provide food to the Kohen. The Kohen won’t need to perform the whole process of making the dough since he will be able to make the bread directly from the ready dough that he gets. As a consequence, the Kohen has time to serve Hashem in the Mikdash.
It seems like both goals complete each other. By completing the first goal through fulfilling a mitzvah with our food the second goal is simultaneously achieved, by giving food to the Kohanim that serve Hashem in the Mikdash.
Rav Eliezer Melamed (in Peninei Halacha) brings another explanation for why the commandment of challah is specifically on bread. Bread is a unique food for human beings. Animals eat meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, weeds etc. These are natural foods that can be eaten in the same form it is found in nature. In addition to these foods, a human being also eats bread, a food that needs to go through a relatively complex process in order to be ready for eating: Harvesting, grinding, turning flour into dough, and baking. That is why bread represents the special powers that a human being has, powers that enable him to act and create in this world. With these powers that he has, a person can create good things or bad things. When we take part of the dough and designate it to Hashem we remind ourselves that our powers come from Hashem and that we have to use them for good.
Separating Challah and the Sin of the Spies
The Seforno (Bemidbar 15:20) writes: ”After the sin of the spies it was necessary to command about the challah for they will be fit for the blessing to apply in their homes…”
What is the connection between the sin of the spies and the mitzvah of separating challah? Why does the Seforno connect the sin of the spies to the mitzvah of separating challah?
When Bnei Yisrael were in the desert they were nourished from manna, a miraculous reality in which people received the exact amount of food they needed and didn’t need to work at all in order to eat. When Bnei Yisrael came into the Land of Israel, the way in which Hashem directs events changed. There was no longer a miraculous reality, and people needed to work in order to have food. The blessing of Hashem can only now be expressed through the field and human action.
The sin of the spies was that they didn’t accept the idea of Hashem’s spiritual blessing being reflected in the material world, through human being’s actions. They couldn’t accept the idea of a combination between the spiritual world and the material world, as reflected in the Land of Israel. That is why they didn’t want to go into the Land of Israel. They wanted to keep the miraculous connection with Hashem who had directed them in the desert.
The mitzvah of challah was commanded when the Jewish People were standing at the entrance to the Land of Israel. The mitzvah of separating challah comes to fix the wrong approach of the spies. It is a sign that we can fulfill a mitzvah through the most materialistic thing. Bread is created from our actions in this world and yet, we fulfill a mitzvah and designate part of it to Hashem. Separating challah teaches us that we can connect to Hashem through natural actions in the material world. It is just natural that at the moment Bnei Yisrael crossed the Jordan River the manna stopped and the obligation for challah began. At the entrance point into the Land of Israel, the place where it’s possible to unite the spiritual world and the material world, our way to reach Hashem changed.
Personal and Communal Providence
From the transition between the manna to separating challah we can learn another important point. While Bnei Yisrael were in the desert there was personal providence. Each individual was judged according to his personal deeds. The personal providence was expressed in manna, as each person got the manna in relation to their respective spiritual level, as the gemara in Yoma (75a) says:
…כְּתִיב “וּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל הַמַּחֲנֶה לָיְלָה [יֵרֵד הַמָּן עָלָיו]” וּכְתִיב “וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ” וּכְתִיב “שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ” הָא כֵּיצַד? צַדִּיקִים יָרַד עַל פֶּתַח בָּתֵּיהֶם, בֵּינוֹנִים יָצְאוּ וְלָקְטוּ, רְשָׁעִים שָׁטוּ וְלָקְטוּ. כְּתִיב “לֶחֶם” וּכְתִיב “עוּגוֹת” וּכְתִיב “וְטָחֲנוּ” הָא כֵּיצַד? צַדִּיקִים לֶחֶם, בֵּינוֹנִים עוּגוֹת, רְשָׁעִים טָחֲנוּ בָּרֵיחַיִם אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדוֹכָה…
It is written: “And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it” (Numbers 11:9). And it is written: “And the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). And it is written: “The people went about and gathered it” (Numbers 11:8). How can these texts be reconciled? For the righteous, the manna fell at the opening of their homes. They expended no effort at all. The average people went out of the camp and gathered what fell there. The wicked had to go about farther to gather.
With regard to the manna, it is written “bread” (Exodus 16:4); and it is written “cakes” (Numbers 11:8); and it is also written “and ground it in mills,” (Numbers 11:8), implying that it was neither bread nor a cake. How can these texts be reconciled? For the righteous, it fell as baked bread; for average people, it fell as unbaked cakes; for the wicked it came in an unprocessed form and consequently they ground it in a mill.
At the entrance to the Land of Israel a change occurred. The people became responsible to each other, and as a result are also punished for the sins of the other.
As the gemara relates in Sanhedrin (43b):
א”ר יוֹחָנָן מִשּׁוּם ר’ אֶלְעָזָר בַּר’ שִׁמְעוֹן…שֶׁלֹּא עָנַשׁ עַל הַנִּסְתָּרוֹת עַד שֶׁעָבְרוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן…
Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: Because God did not punish the nation as a whole for hidden sins committed by individuals until the Jewish people crossed the Jordan River.
This is reminiscent of the second explanation of the Chinuch regarding the solidarity expressed through the mitzvah of challah. The challah is food we give to the Kohanim to ensure they have the time to serve Hashem in the Mikdash. When Am Yisrael is in the Land of Israel we become one collective and not just a gathering of individuals, and we have a responsibility for each other. In this new system of mutual responsibility, so long as the Kohanim are busy working in the mikdash the rest of the Jewish people will provide them food.
We can see that the mitzvah of separating challah embodies a unique expression of the connection between the holy and the secular and the reality of Am Yisrael as a community in which all individuals are responsible to each other. These ideas are particularly and especially expressed in the Land of Israel.
Through the source of challah in the Torah, the writing of our sages, and the words of the blessing we have seen that challah has two aspects. The first aspect represents heaven, through that which is uplifted from us, the terumah. The second aspect is more connected to our world, the bread that we actually eat. The mitzvah of challah is special in connecting both worlds by uplifting even simple bread.