Updated: Jun 22, 2022
The third special Mitzvah that was given to women is the separation of Challot. Like all the other Mitzvot we spoke before (Shabbat Candles and Family Purity), this one is filled with deep secrets even though it looks fairly simple.
According to the Shulchan Aruch, whenever a woman (or man) bakes with a large quantity with one of the five main types of flour (wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats) she’s enjoined to separate a small piece of dough with her hand before kneading the batch, and making the blessing: “Blessed are you Hashem, our Lord, who has sanctified and commanded us with the Mitzvah of Separating Challah”.
The minimum quantity needed to make a blessing varies: according to Asheknazim, you need at least 5 pounds of flour, according to Sephardim, it’s at least 3.44 pounds. When in doubt over whether you have enough flour, it’s best not to make the blessing. This small piece that is separated is what is effectively called Challah, which must be burned afterward.
I know the title sounds funny, but what does Challah have to do with humans? The answer might surprise you.
Choicest of the Earth
The Mitzvah of Separation of Challah is of a very special kind because the Torah uses the term ראשית which is usually translated as “beginning” (and also the first word of the Torah). Other Mitzvot in this category include the “Redemption of the Firstborn”, and the Bikkurim (“First Fruits”). But it’s more than that. This is the term used to imply that there’s a special blessing and emanation coming from the Sephirah of Chokhmah, as the verse in Tehilim (111:10) goes: ראשית חכמה יראת ה״ which means “the beginning of wisdom (חכמה) is the fear of Hashem”.
There’s a principle in Torah that the beginning of any endeavor has special sanctity and we are enjoined to dedicate it to Hashem, the “beginning” of all. This is also used when separating the fruits of the land or when a firstborn son is born.
We find in the Zohar that Hashem took of the choicest parts of the Earth and sanctified the first man and women (which were born as one), when creating them. In this regard, they were quite literally, the “Challah of the world”, sanctified by Hashem Himself for elevating Creation! This is one of the reasons why we are required to sanctify a portion of our bread to Hashem, and therefore also rectify a part of His Creation, mankind.
The Miracle of Bread
But why is bread so special that it requires such a special Mitzvah? One of the many answers given is that there’s a disproportional amount of work that goes into making Challah. Specifically, there are 10 types of work that start from the time the farmer plows his field to the time the bread is ready. This is unheard of with any other type of food.
Think about how much effort and time comes until you have freshly baked bread: the farmer has to plow the land, sow the seeds, irrigate, take care of it, then cut, break the seed, separate the grain from the chaff and grind it. Once it’s turned to flour, then the woman needs to mix it with water, knead it and bake it! Having bread is indeed nothing sort of a miracle and we thank Hashem for giving it to us. Bread is also considered the most satiating food as the verse in Tehilim (104:15): ולחם לבב אנוש יסעד which means “and bread satiates the hearts of man”.
For this reason and many others we also have the Mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon, which is said only over bread, which in Hebrew is called Lechem (לחם) that has the numerical value of 78, or 3 times the name of Hashem יהוה which is Gematria 26.
The Holy Arizal went further and also taught that it’s good practice to make 12 loaves of challot (can be small), paralleling the 12 showbreads that were displayed in the golden table. Since sustenance is derived from the table of the showbreads, which sustained the Kohanim with even a minute piece, we can assume this custom turns our table into the holy showbread table. Each of the 12 challot need to be set up in the following manner with the appropriate names of Hashem to them (see the picture below). Each of the 6 squares with a holy name contains 2 challot, one on top of the other. The challah on the bottom is the letter Heh ה while the one on top is either a Yud י or Vav ו:
Baking Challah has become the custom of many Jewish women. There are wondrous Kabbalistic secrets to it. In fact, one very special segulah for sustenance is baking a Challah in the form of a key for the Shabbat after Pesach, in order to “open” the gates of sustenance.
What else can you think about related to bread?
Leave your answer in the comments below and may we merit to bring to our breads all the blessings from the Torah!
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!