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The mitzvah of hafrashat challah appears for the first time in this week’s Torah portion.

Bereishit Barah” – Our Sages say that hafrashat challah was one of the main reasons Hashem created the world. Certain things are called “reishit”: Am Yisrael is called reishit, the Torah is called reishit, bikkurim and hafrashat challah are also called reishit – “reishit arisoteichem.” It is understandable that Hashem created the world because of Am Yisrael or because of the Torah – but to create the world because of hafrashat challah? That hafrashat challah is a cornerstone of this world, what does that mean?

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When do we first encounter hafrashat challah in the Torah? Most people think it is with Sarah Imeinu. When Yitzchak brought Rivka to the tent of his mother, the Midrash (Breishit Rabba 60, 16) says that all the blessings that prevailed in Sarah’s tent during her lifetime, and ceased when she died, resumed when Yitzchak married Rivka. What blessings? A Cloud of the Shechina rested on her tent; the candle remained lit from erev Shabbat to erev Shabbat; and there was a blessing in her dough. Why does it say a “blessing in her dough”? It should say “a blessing in her bread.” Chazal tell us that Sarah, and following her, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Bilha and Zilpah, all did hafrashat challah: They made a blessing on the dough before it was baked.

What was the purpose of this? To atone for the sin of Chava with the Eitz Hada’at, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which according to one opinion in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 70a), was wheat. In the book Meir Panim (Chap. 15, pg 161), I bring a principle that Chava in fact baked a chametz bread from wheat, the fruit of the Eitz Hada’at.

So the concept of hafrashat challah existed long before the Torah portion of Shlach.

The mitzvah of hafrashat challah is from the written Torah, and like all the mitzvot related to the Land of Israel, applies only in Eretz Yisrael and only when the majority of Am Yisrael resides there. However, as a rabbinical commandment, we are obliged to perform hafrashat challah today, even outside Eretz Yisrael. It is the only mitzvah related to the Land of Israel that we perform in galut. We do not observe shemittah outside Eretz Yisrael, we do not take trumot and ma’asrot from produce, etc., only hafrashat challah, and the question is – why?

The second question is: why does the mitzvah of hafrashat challah appear in the Torah immediately following the debacle with the spies, in our parsha? What is the connection between the two?

Before attempting to answer these questions, a short introduction (I mention just one of the many laws of hafrashat challah, I am just mentioning this one because it has direct bearing on the discussion above).

If someone bakes bread, they have a bowl of flour, a jug of water, teaspoon measures of yeast, salt, etc., all ready to go mix. Can you dip your hand into the dry flour, take out a portion of the flour and make the bracha? The answer is no! Only after you have added the water to the flour (and some opinions say, began to mix the dough) does this mixture become a requirement for hafrashat challah.

I want to share with you the incredible interpretation of the Or HaChayim (Breishit 2), regarding hafrashat challah.

According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba, 14,1), Adam HaRishon is called “Challatoh Shel Olam, the Challah of the World.” The Ba’al Haturim expounds on the verse that describes Hashem’s creation of Adam (Breishit 2: 7) – “Vayehi HaAdam Lenefesh Chayah.” An acronym is formed from the letters heh, lamed, chet – forming the word challah.

Hashem gathered dust from the four corners of the earth and used it to create man. Was it dry dust? We know it was not, from the previous verse: “A ‘vapor’ arose from the ground and irrigated the entire face of the earth.” The dust (sand) thus was mixed with water. This “clay” was the raw material Hashem used to create Adam – just as a baker takes flour and mixes it with water to make dough.

When Hashem created the grass and the trees on the third day, did they immediately begin to bear seeds and fruit? The Or HaChayim says no. Only on the sixth day, when the earth was irrigated and Adam was created, did they begin to bear their crops. They could not do so before because there was no one to take trumot and ma’asrot until Adam was created.

The Or HaChayim brings an amazing chiddush; he says that by taking some of the earth and creating Adam HaRishon, Hashem Himself was doing hafrashat challah – from the earth. The earth itself requires hafrashat challah and man is that hafrashat challah! This is why Adam is called “Challatoh Shel Olam” – because Adam himself was hafrashat challah.

Just as when we do hafrashat challah the challah becomes kodesh and can only be eaten by a Kohen who is pure; similarly, it was Hashem’s intention when He created the world that man would be kodesh. That was the purpose for which the world was created.

The Midrash tells us that when the spies returned, they found Moshe teaching Am Israel the Eretz Yisrael-dependent mitzvot, among them hafrashat challah. They scoffed, “Why do you bother, we will never enter Eretz Yisrael, so these mitzvot are irrelevant.”

The spies failed to understand the purpose for which Hashem created the world. The same purpose reflected in the mitzvah of hafrashat challah, which according to the Torah can only be performed when Am Yisrael is in Eretz Yisrael and reliving the creation of the world daily, gathering their own crops from the earth. They can never realize that purpose living in a cocoon in the Midbar. This is why this mitzvah directly follows the parsha of the spies.

Today we observe the rabbinically commanded mitzvah of hafrashat challah even outside Eretz Yisrael, because Chazal wanted us to carry this principle with us always, even in galut, and never forget it. It was because the spies spoke lashon harah that we are in galut in the first place, and the antidote to that is to understand the underlying principle of hafrashat challah.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Hafrashat challah is like a “double tax” on wheat. You have already taken trumot and ma’asrot from the wheat, so why do you need to take a “second” truma from the dough? When you harvest grapes, you take truma and ma’aser from the grapes, but you do not need to take a second truma from wine made from grapes.

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: How could the “asafsuf” demand meat “like they ate in Egypt,” if they never ate meat in Egypt? According to Rabbeinu Bachye the “asafsuf” was the eirev rav, Egyptians who did eat meat in Egypt. How could the rest of Am Yisrael join with them in demanding meat? According to the Kli Yakar, it was not “meat” at all they demanded, but “arayot” – familial relationships that the Torah now forbade, which were not previously forbidden in Egypt.

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Eliezer Meir Saidel is Managing Director of Machon Lechem Hapanim www.machonlechemhapanim.org dedicated to researching the Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center www.jewishbakingcenter.com which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread.