Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 5 June 2021 / 25 Sivan 5781

Separating Challah

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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In addition to the portion of produce that is to be gifted to the Kohen, we are commanded to take a part off of every batch of dough that we prepare in our homes.

Just as the threshing floor shows us the abundance with which G-d has blessed the field, our dough represents the prosperity with which G-d has blessed our homes. In both cases, the Torah instructs that an owner may not partake of his goods until he performs the symbolic act of separating a portion for the Kohen. In the case of produce, it is called terumah, while in the case of dough it is called challah. (This is the origin of the name of traditional loaves served on Shabbat).

By separating this terumah or challah, the owner gives homage to G-d, in recognition of His blessing of his field and home. The gift goes to the Kohen, who represents the Sanctuary of Torah. This awareness begins in the field and is renewed when he prepares the daily bread for himself and his family. While the crops that ripen in the field are a blessing to all people, the bread baked in one’s home symbolizes his individual blessing.

There is no minimum quantity stated for the portion separated. The obligation may be satisfied (according to the Torah) with even the tiniest piece of dough or a single kernel from the whole pile. (There is, however, a rabbinic minimum requirement.) On the other hand, there is a maximum limit for both. Both are termed reishit, meaning the beginning of, or the first portion of. This would not remain a true description unless a considerable amount remains. Hence, our Rabbis taught that if one declares his whole barn to be terumah, or the whole of his dough to be challah, his declaration is invalid and has no effect.

This teaches an important lesson: No one may consider the Kohen’s relation to the Torah to be a substitute for his own. He should not view the Kohen’s existence as worthy and his own existence as insignificant. Instead, he is to understand that blessing preserves his own existence — and that existence is dedicated to G-d and His Torah.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bamidbar 15:20

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