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Home » Food, Sh'lach L'chah

Shlach: Got Challah?

Submitted by on May 30, 2010 – 5:11 amNo Comment | 2,710 views

A Unique Form of Giving

There are many forms of giving; charitable donations, priestly offerings and sacrificial consecrations to name a few. The common denominator among these is that a portion of one’s property is donated or consecrated one time; rendering the remainder available for personal use. The one exception is challah, the little portion separated from every batch of dough that is given to the priest (Kohen). (1)
Challah may not be given once a month or once a year like other forms of charity; rather challah must be given separately every time a batch of dough is mixed. To understand why this is we must delve into the inner meaning of this beautiful Mitzvah.

Two Trees

Our sages taught that separating challah rectifies Eve’s sin of partaking of the forbidden fruit. (2) There were many trees in the Garden of Eden, but the Torah speaks of only two; the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.

The tree of knowledge represents humanity’s quest for understanding, sophistication and ultimately control; what I understand I accept and what does not make sense I reject. The tree of life represents immersion into the raw force and spiritual substance of life; it is the Divine spark that vivifies and animates all living things. In this mind frame one does not accept or reject truths communicated by G-d; one simply lives them. It suffuses and even sublimates the very fabric of our beings.

One quickly sees that the two trees represent polar opposite weltanschauungen.  The tree of life represents the leap of faith that allows one to bask in the glow of G-d and luxuriate in complete submission. In this state one absolves oneself from responsibility of discernment and self reliance; one relies completely on G-d. The tree of knowledge forces us to take responsibility for our decisions; to discern right from wrong on the strength of our own cognizance. This is indeed a grave responsibility.

The serpent argued that the world is painted in extremes; either the tree of life or of knowledge. The truth is that a balance of both is necessary; we must think for ourselves, but must not become final arbiters on matters of truth. We must always remain attuned to our limitations and never reject Divine truths only because our finite minds fail to grasp them.

Daily Life

If this is true in matters of cognition it is equally true in matters of life. There are those whose lives reflect the tree of life; their entire life is immersed in sacred pursuits of study and prayer. Then there are those whose lives reflect the other extreme; they are self absorbed and pursue only matters of self interest. The proper approach is a balance of the two; the day begins and ends with sacred devotions such as Torah study and prayer, but is largely dedicated to the daily concerns of life.

One might approach this balance in two ways. One could view the morning and evening devotions as G-d’s time and the rest of the day as personal time. Alternatively one could view the entire day as a service to G-d; morning and evening through prayer and study; the rest of the day through living the life that G-d intended for us to live. (3)

Therein lies the difference between the method by which challah is given and that by which all other offerings are given. When a portion of the crop is left for the poor or offered to the priest we discharge our obligations to G-d and society and are free to enjoy the greater portion of our labor for ourselves.

Separating challah every time we knead a batch of dough forces us to think of G-d even as we partake of our own portion. Serving G-d is not a duty to discharge and dispense with; G-d is ever-present in our life. He is there when we pray, when we study and when we engage in daily tasks such as food preparation; He is our only purpose. We don’t pay Him homage and move on with our affairs; we invite Him into our affairs for our affairs are synonymous with His. This is why challah is separated every time we knead dough; not just once a year. (4) (5)

Water And Flour

This is also why challah is only separated after the flour and water have got challah innerstreammixed well and the dough has gained some consistency. Dry flour represents multiplicity; there are countless little crystals of flour none of which are inherently attached to the others. Under the treatment of water, the separated crystals coalesce and become a single unit. Cohesion and unity represent the oneness of G-d. Separateness and multiplicity represents a concealment of creation’s inherent singularity.

For example, art connoisseurs can generally discern the hand of an artist in all his paintings; Da-Vinci, Rembrandt and Van-Gogh each had a particular style. G-d, the consummate artist, has no style; the art of creation is as varied as it is vast. To ensure that His hand would not be discerned in His works G-d concealed His hand from creation. It is our task to reveal His presence among us. We do that by devoting our lives to His service despite being surrounded by the many pleasures and delights that would otherwise serve us.

Another way of putting this is that our task is to introduce singularity into the realm of plurality. This is signified by mixing the flour with water; melding all the apparently separate crystals into a single cohesion. This reveals that the separate pieces are at essence one; a truth that comes forth under the proper treatment.

The moment this truth is revealed is sublime and inspiring. It is the most appropriate moment to dedicate ourselves anew to the service of our creator, which is why we separate challah at this moment.

Final Meditation

As life unfolds and our plans take shape we must ask ourselves whether G-d has been considered in our plans. The same is true of our emotions. When we react in anger, passion or joy, we must ask ourselves whether our emotional response flows from our own interests or also those of G-d. In life as in bread, we must always separate a portion and dedicate it to G-d. (6)


    1. Numbers 15:20. Challah is not separated from a batch
      smaller than seven and a half cups of flour.
      Challah is separated without a Bracha if the batch consists of seven and
      a half to twelve cups of flour.
      If the batch consists of twelve cups of flour or more challah is
      separated with a Bracha.
      Before forming loaves, while the batch is still whole, recite the
      Bracha, Baruch Attah Adonai Elihenu Melech Haolam Asher Kideshanu
      Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu Lehafrish Challah. Separate a small piece of
      dough, approximately one ounce, wrap it in foil and (since we can no
      longer give it to the Kohen, the prevailing custom is to) burn it. If
      you burn it in the oven make sure it is not burned at the same time that
      the bread or Challah is baked.
      Baking bread in large batches is cumbersome, but advantageous in that it
      affords us the opportunity for this delightful Mitzvah.
      Incidentally, we refer to Shabbat bread as challah though lechem is the
      Hebrew word for bread. Challah actually refers to the little portion of
      dough given to the Kohen. We call it Challah because we tend to bake
      Shabbat loaves at home and separate our own Challah.
    2. Bereishis Rabbah 14. The sin of woman should be
      rectified by woman, which is why responsibility for giving Challah is
      largely given to the Jewish woman. Though this Mitzvah was given to the
      woman, any Jew above the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah may fulfill the Mitzvah.


  • G-d is served through our pursuit of life’s daily concerns when we pursue them for the sake of serving G-d and in a manner consistent with His laws. The bridge that links the sanctity of the study hall and the theater of daily life is our constant awareness of G-d as our master and of our place as His servants.
  • The Torah states (Nunber 15: 19) “when you eat from the bread of the earth you will separate a portion to G-d.” Since challah is separated before the bread is baked why does the Torah connect the separation to the eating of the bread? The answer lies in the purpose of the mitzvah. The purpose of separating challah is not only to present the kohen with bread to eat, but to sublimate the portion that the Israelite eats. The sanctity of the mitvah extends beyond the separated portion to the entire loaf. When the Israelite is reminded that the purpose of eating bread is to sublimate its physical substance into energy that serves the Divine, the loaf itself becomes sacred.
  • A similar example is the rabbinic dictum that one chant a blessing before partaking of life’s pleasures. The blessing essentially declares that the substance we are about to enjoy was created by G-d for the purpose of serving Him. The blessing thus serves as a reminder that our own portion is inseparable from G-d.
  • This essay is based on Toras Menachem v. 23 pp. 83-88.


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