Parshat Shelach Lecha: Hafrashat Challah – Rebuke, reassurance or resource?
Cheryl Burnat made aliyah from New Jersey 10 years ago and serves as the Director of Programming at Midreshet Lindenbaum. A Midreshet Lindenbaum alumna (’03-’04), Cheryl is a lawyer by training, but has her heart in Jewish education. In her spare time she dabbles in legal translations, hadrachat kallot and medical advocacy. Cheryl lives in her dream town of Jerusalem with her husband Adam and two handsome princes.
This week’s parsha, Parshat Shelach, contains the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah. The mitzvah is found in in the immediate aftermath of Chet Hameraglim (פרק כ:יז-כב) and within the context of entering Eretz Yisrael. Hafrashat Challah is a mitzva deorayta that an individual must separate out a portion of the dough s/he is making and give it to the kohen. The command to take the most simple ingredients and elevate them teaches Bnei Yisrael in the midbar, as well as the generations that follow (as the pasuk says “לדורותם”) an important message in Hashem’s role in our lives and our requirement to be mindful of it.
In their comments on Hafrashat Challah, the mefarshim appear to be split on whether or not the context of Chet Hameraglim is relevant to the the mitzvah. Interpretations that directly connect the two range the spectrum of Hafrashat Challah being a rebuke-like response to Chet Hameraglim to it being reassurance that Bnei Yisrael will still enter Eretz Yisrael. For example Sforno states that “after chet hameraglim, there was a need for challah in order for there to be bracha in their homes.”
This response is harsh and makes it seem as if the mitzvah serves as a form of “tikkun” (correction) for Chet Hameraglim and is a necessity after the chet.
On the other hand there is the Ramban, who suggests at the beginning of במדבר פרק טו:ב that the mitzvot that follow Chet Hameraglim are all connected to Eretz Yisrael and says that “perhaps this section is given now in order to console them (Bnei Yisrael).” The pasuk says: בְּבֹאֲכֶם, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם, שָׁמָּה (כ:י”ח – Hashem reassures Bnei Yisrael that they will indeed be brought into Eretz Yisrael and that Hashem himself will bring them.
Is Hafrashat Challah a response to Chet Hameraglim, a consequence of it or a meaningful coincidence in placement?
Perhaps while it may seem contradictory, the mitzvah of hafrashat challah can be seen both as tochacha (rebuke) of Chet Hameraglim and nechama (reassurance) after Chet Hameraglim that Bnei Yisrael will indeed enter into Eretz Yisrael and this mitzvah will take effect.
Additionally, there are several mefarshim who don’t relate at all to Hafrashat Challah in the context of Chet Hameraglim.
The Sefer Hachinuch in mitzvah 385 (שפ”ה) gives the shoresh of the mitzvah as לפי שחיותו של אדם במזונות, ורוב העולם יחיו בלחם, רצה המקום לזכותנו במצוה תמידית בלחמנו כדי שתנוח ברכה בו על ידי המצוה ונקבל בה זכות בנפשנו, ונמצאת העיסה מזון לגוף ומזון לנפש – Because bread is something we are always involved in, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah so that we constantly have increased merits.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch picks up on the words כתרומת הגורן and writes “just as the threshing floor shows us the abundance with which G-d has blessed our fields, the arisa (of the challah) represents the prosperity He has bestowed on our households.” In the same way that giving teruma from the fields acknowledges Hashem’s presence and role in the process, so too, taking challah from the bread we make in our homes also serves as this reminder.
Although these do not directly address Chet Hameraglim, perhaps this notion of constantly surrounding ourselves with acknowledgement of Hashem’s presence is precisely something that can help us avoid Chet Hameraglim situations in the future.
The mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah can be seen both as rebuke for Chet Hameraglim as well as reassurance of our relationship with Hashem in the face of it. It can also be seen as a strategy for the future so that it doesn’t happen again. During Chet HaMeraglim, the spies, along with Bnei Yisrael, were not mindful enough of their situation and therefore came to many (false) conclusions.
The mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah can be seen both as a critique of Bnei Yisrael – “you weren’t mindful and that caused you to mess up so now do this mitzvah to remind you to be”, as well as a gentle reassurance that yes, you are still going into Eretz Yisrael and will have special mitzvot to do there. It is also a suggestion to help Bnei Yisrael remember to do it differently next time.
If we can internalize and be mindful of the fact that Hashem ultimately controls our lives, then we are less at risk of the fears and doubts that overtook the meraglim and Bnei Yisrael during Chet Hameraglim.
In contrast to the other Mitzvot Teluyot Ba’aretz, mitzvot that are reliant on being in eretz yisrael, Hafrashat Challah is kept d’rabbanan even in Chutz La’aretz. Perhaps it is because this mitzvah gives us the tools to work on ourselves, presents to us the opportunity to be mindful, to daven, and to recognize Hashem’s constant presence in our lives. Chet Hameraglim caused a “bechi l’dorot” – a cry for generations (גמרא תענית כ”ט), so Hafrashat Challah – either as a rebuke, reassurance, resource, or all three, is also relevant to all of us independent of time and place.
There are many practical tips for helping make Hafrashat Challah a mindful experience that reminds us of Hashem’s presence in our lives and helps us elevate even the most mundane and make them holy. There are different kavanot – intentions or thoughts – that can be used for each ingredient. Here are some examples I have put together:
אם אין קמח, אין תורה – Flour represents our most basic needs in life. Without flour we can’t survive and we can’t learn Torah. In this trying time we daven that we have financial stability, food, and necessary medical equipment etc
אין מים אלה תורה – Torah is like water- It nurtures everything with its lifegiving ability. This is a moment to appreciate our connection to Torah, ability to continue learning despite the obstacles and daven that we continue to be connected to Torah every day.
Yeast in Hebrew is שמרים – from the root meaning “to guard.” This is an opportunity to daven for Hashem to guard and protect us, our health, our country, and the overall state of the world as it weathers this crisis. Yeast in the dough is what fuels the bread’s growth. Despite the challenges we should think about ways we can use the situation for personal and communal growth.
A small amount of salt enhances all of the flavors in the challah. Sometimes, like flavors, hardships can show our true colors. We daven to Hashem and strive during this time that even our hardships bring out and also enhance the best parts of ourselves.
Eggs represent fertility as well as the cycle of life. This is a chance to daven for people who are struggling to have children, people who need a refua shelema, and for a complete refua shelema for everyone affected by corona.
Oil represents candles and light. In these moments we daven to see the light in all of the darkness and challenge ourselves to be a candle which is able to provide light to others even when it seems very dark.
Sugar represents sweetness, מידת הרחמים and all of the brachot in our lives. We daven that Hashem judges us and the entire world in this time only with Rachamim and try for ourselves to remember to be kind and see the good in everyone and everything around us.
A final idea is related to an intention to have while we braid the challah. Why braids? Why don’t we just have basic loaves of bread?
There are different explanations given – the unification of zachor and shamor, of kodesh and chol, 2 loaves of 6 braids representing the 12 shevatim etc.
It can also act as a reminder of how rebuke and reassurance come together in this mitzvah.
Additionally, it teaches us the lesson (and especially this last year our communities have been forced to do this) — that sometimes we have all the ingredients, we have the community members, we have our halachot etc, and we work hard to make them work and then something happens (perhaps a global pandemic) and we are forced to take it apart; and think about how to put the components back together in a beautiful way.
When we are mindful of Hashem’s role in our lives, and we know we have all the pieces then even if things come apart as they did in Chet Hameraglim, the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah reminds us that Hashem is with us and we have the ability to put it back together.