Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Shelach Lecha

Challah is so much more that just a loaf of bread…

Why do we call our loaves of bread ‘challah’?

The term ‘challah’ comes from a root which means ‘weakness’, and therefore ‘machallah’ is an illness and a ‘choleh’ or ‘challah’ is a person who is ill.  Also, the same root is used for the Hebrew meaning to ‘appease’. Therefore, the Torah tells us ‘vayachal Moshe’ – Moshe ‘appeased’ Hashem, and that’s because when you appease someone, you are softening their anger, you are weakening the tough stand that they have taken. But what has all this got to do with Challah that we eat?

The Torah mitzvah of Challah is given to us in parashat Shelach Lecha. Immediately afterwards, we are told about the saga of the twelve spies, Hashem instructs us: once the nation has entered into the Holy Land, when baking our bread we should remove a little portion of the dough and send it to the Kohanim so that they have sufficient to eat. That little portion is called ‘Challah’ and the mitzvah is called the ‘mitzvah of challah’.

Sforno suggests that the mitzvah is presented straight after the story of the twelve spies because challah was to be carried out as a sign of appreciation of the yield, the produce, the harvest of the Holy Land – to indicate our love of the land! That was what was absent at the time when the spies went and delivered their irresponsible report – and that would be something we would be celebrating throughout the generations to come.

Challah is a great example of ‘synecdoche’ – that is when the whole is named after one of its parts. For example, we refer to spectacles as being ‘glasses’, or you say you are engaging in a ‘head count’. The fascinating thing about challah is, is that we are naming the whole loaf after a part of it which doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the part that we’ve taken away! It’s the part with which we’ve performed the mitzvah and through which we have shared what we have with others. That’s why I believe the term ‘Challah’ is so significant for us. What it means is that when we sit down at our Shabbos or Yom Tov tables to enjoy all the delicious foods that we have and to bite into our challah, we need to remember two great loves of the Jewish people. First – our love of the land of Israel, and secondly – our love of mitzvot and the privilege we have to share what we have with others.

Shabbat Shalom


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