JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review June 7, 2002 / 27 Sivan, 5762

"Challah": More than
a mundane mouthful

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The Torah entrusted the spiritual and emotional health of a home and family to the woman of the house. Part of the mechanism that aided the Jewish woman in the accomplishment of this awesome task was the special mitzvos -- commandments of the Torah -- that were part of her sphere. The most famous of these mitzvos is undoubtedly the lighting of the Sabbath candles every Friday evening. In a sense, the entire spiritual center of the household is reflected in the glow of the flames of the Sabbath candles.

But in the Torah reading of this week we are told of another central mitzvah that is part of the family's inner structure and sense of spirituality and serenity.

During Temple times, that commandment, known as "challah" -- is the requirement to separate a piece of dough and offer it as a gift to the Kohen, priest. Burning that piece of dough is so ingrained within the people of Israel that the special bread that graces our Sabbath tables is itself called "challah," after the name of the mitzvah associated with the baking of that bread.

The Torah teaches us that "man does not live by bread alone." Thus bread -- to truly have meaning beyond its essential physical, hunger-satisfying quality -- must somehow be associated with the spiritual.

The mitzvah of "challah" also reminds us of the role of charity and compassion, especially as it applies to food sharing and distribution. The prophet Isaiah, in his great message of Godly challenge that is read in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, states that we are commanded to "spread our own bread before the hungry."

In our blessed country of the United States, true and widespread hunger or famine as it is known in other parts of the world, is rare and thus perceived as an aberration. Thus, the sharing of our bread with the hungry has less of a dramatic impact upon us. But the Torah imperative to see the want of others in the very fullness of the bread of our meals still is applicable to us. Hospitality, goodness, charity, compassion and concern for others, are all encompassed in the mitzvos of food --- all such an integral part of Jewish tradition.

The reminder of "challah" is the reality check of Jewish tradition and of its moral influence upon all areas of human existence and relationships, even with our daily bread.

"Challah" also carried with it the requirement that it be eaten by the Kohen while he was in a state of tahara -- ritual purity. Food that was shared from someone else's table is entitled to appreciation and recognition. Thus, a Kohen could eat his own food without always being in a state of tahara. But whenever he ate of the matanos kehuna - the special gifts of food that were given to him by the Jewish people, he was always obliged to eat those gifts in a state of ritual purity.

The recognition that what was given to one by others, certainly by the Creator of us all, is to be treated in an exalted and pure fashion is also part of the matrix of Jewish life. One is never allowed to demean or squander even one's own assets, but one is certainly bidden to use what is given to him by others in a wise, holy and productive fashion.

The obligation of the Kohen to eat his matanos kehuna in a spiritual and reverent fashion is practical reinforcement to the idea of appreciation and productivity. Therefore, the next time we are about to place a piece of "challah" bread in our mouth, we should remember the exalted spiritual and moral idea that lies behind this seemingly mundane mouthful.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2002, Rabbi Berel Wein