Challah: The Breadwinner
When kneading a sizeable dough of the five main types of grain (wheat,
barley, maize, spelt and oats), a portion of challah was first separated
as tithes to the Kohen before the bread was eaten (Bamidbar 15:19-21).
(Today, the separation of challah is performed but burnt).
The fruit from the field can be eaten immediately. The production of
bread, however, necessitates an elaborate series of activities including
threshing, winnowing, grinding, kneading, and baking. Still, a portion of
dough is first set aside to G-d before man partakes of it.
Bread is the mainstay of man's diet. Bread, that is not the foodstuff of
animals, magnificently embodies the uniqueness of humanity. In fact, there
are some remarkable parallels illustrating the affinity between "bread"
Only man has to work as a "breadwinner" with backbreaking labor. Actually,
this toil was as a direct consequence of man misusing his bechira, "free
will" and the repercussions of Adam's sin, eating of the Tree of
Knowledge, which according to one opinion was of wheat (Berachos 40a).
Adam feared "shall I and my donkey eat out of the same trough?" (Pesachim
118a) but his fears were allayed when G-d declared to him "with the
sweat of your brow you shall eat bread" (Bereishis 3:19).
The sophisticated manufacture of bread, despite its elongated process,
affirms man's superior intelligence.
When his actions are holy and directed to G-d, he is rightly crowned
the "king" over the other creatures of this world. However, were he to
sin, he plummets from his position and loses this title. Adam was rightly
concerned lest he degenerate to the lowly level of an animal, to indulge
in animalistic behavior.
In his formation on the Sixth Day of Creation, Adam's body was "kneaded
[like a dough] from the [earth of the] ground" (Sanhedrin 38b) into which
G-d implanted a divine "soul" to elevate and uplift him from a purely
materialistic existence. In-other-words, Adam's curious description of
the "challah of the world" (Bereishis Rabbah 14:1) points at his exalted
status that rests upon his ability to sanctify himself and the world
around him just as the portion of challah is sanctified to G-d before
partaking of the rest of the bread.
It is true that this task "with the sweat of your brow you shall eat
bread" would require wrestling the stubborn earth to elicit the latent
holiness within. But do this he must - until he can declare G-d in the
universe as evident within the blessing on bread produced by man,
proclaiming G-d with the words: "hamotzei lechem min ha'aretz, the One who
brings forth bread from the ground" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 167:2).
It is appropriate how, like man as king over the creatures, bread is
similarly elevated above everything else.
Bread is itself a symbol of kingship. When Boaz gave Ruth "bread" (Ruth
2:14) he symbolized how she was deserving of siring kings (Shabbos 113b).
It is not coincidental that King David, descendant of Ruth, came
from "Beis Lechem" (Bethlehem) that literally translates as "House of
Bread". The most prominent and "king" of all foods, bread has a separate
blessing of its own. It is the basis of the meal (breaking bread) which is
typically eaten first and afterwards there is the biblical obligation to
recite "birchas hamazon, blessing after the Meal".
This, then, provides an additional dimension of the symbolism of challah.
Lest man forget how he is the "challah" and "king" over the lower world,
his diet is distinctive to that of the other beasts.
His goal is to always be the "breadwinner": to grapple with the "ground"
and to bring forth its "bread" and spend his energies to ensure the
sanctification of G-d in the world.
The course is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of SET IN STONE (2004: Targum) about the meaning of mitzvah observance and PEOPLE OF THE BOOK (2007: Targum) about the biblical personalities. A London-based writer and educator whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments, he learned at the Gateshead and Mir Yeshivas, holds a Bachelor of Science (Honors) business degree from London's City University, and is a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.