You Need this Dough

June 28, 2024

When I turned twelve, I had a Bat Mitzvah celebration. A coming of age ceremony in Judaism. Jewish boys celebrate this milestone at the age of 13, and Jewish girls typically celebrate at the age of twelve. The Bar and Bat Mitzvah symbolizes the official foray into adulthood, and on a more practical level, the official obligation to start keeping the Biblical commandments in full. One of the special things that I did to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah was by baking challah for my community, and since I baked so much challah (70 mouths requires a lot of dough!), I partook in the special commandment of Hafrashat Challah, or separating the challah. My official first commandment as a Jewish woman. But part of what made this moment so special for me was that my Hebrew birthday actually corresponds with the weekly portion from the Bible, read on the Sabbath, where we read about the special commandment to separate the dough. Not only was I participating in a unique commandment, but I also got to do it in honor of my twelfth birthday. I remember this moment fondly even today, and on a regular basis as I bake challah for my family weekly. There is something spiritual and Godly about kneading the dough, separating the challah, waiting for my yeasty loaf to rise, braiding it, and serving it to my family every Shabbat. It’s not just bread, but it’s bread that ties us to the Bible – and ties us to the land of Israel. 

But what is the commandment of taking challah and why is it so important? Important enough that it is something Jewish people across the world continue to do today.

When we think of challah, most of us envision the beautifully braided loaves that grace Shabbat tables. However, before eating this delicious bread, there’s a commandment that is fulfilled during the baking of the bread itself. The mitzvah (commandment) of “taking challah” transforms our everyday bread-making into a sacred ritual, reminding us of our connection to the Divine.

The act of “taking challah” refers to separating a small portion of dough before baking bread. This commandment originates from the Bible, where God commands the Israelites:

Traditionally, this separated piece of dough was given to the kohanim (priests) as a form of sustenance. Today, since we don’t have the Temple, we burn the separated pieces instead.

The obligation to take challah applies when using a significant amount of flour – typically when baking with about 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) or more. After kneading the dough but before shaping it into loaves, we recite a blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.” Then, a small piece of dough (about the size of an olive) is separated, declared “challah,” and burned, usually wrapped in foil and placed in the oven.

While the practical aspects of taking challah are straightforward, its spiritual implications run deep. By separating a portion of our dough, we acknowledge that everything we have comes from God. It’s a tangible reminder that we are not the ultimate owners of our possessions, but stewards entrusted with their care. This act of giving back, even symbolically, cultivates an attitude of gratitude and humility. Akin to giving charity, or tithes.

The Sages teach that taking challah elevates the entire batch of dough! And I’m not just referring to how dough literally rises. By dedicating a small portion to a holy purpose, we infuse the entire loaf with spiritual significance. This concept reminds us that we have the power to sanctify the mundane aspects of our lives through mindful actions and intentions. It’s a powerful metaphor for how even our smallest actions can have far-reaching effects, transforming not just a loaf of bread, but potentially our entire approach to life.

Interestingly, the sages suggest that the mitzvah of challah serves as a tikkun (rectification) for the sin of Eve in the Garden of Eden. According to one interpretation, the forbidden fruit was actually wheat! By separating challah, we have the opportunity to elevate and rectify that mistake, participating in the ongoing process of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Bread is often seen as the staple of physical sustenance. By incorporating a spiritual act into its preparation, we recognize that humans don’t live on bread alone. We need both physical and spiritual nourishment to thrive. Taking challah reminds us to tend to both aspects of our being, bringing holiness into the very act of preparing our daily bread.

One last interesting “slice” of this commandment? It is the only commandment specific to the land of Israel that is still kept – outside of the land of Israel today! For example, a Jewish farmer in Milwaukee will not let his farm “rest” every seven years according to the laws of Shemitah. That is a commandment only followed in Israel. But this is not the case with separating challah.

Aside from the beautiful spiritual connections to the “taking of challah,” what is so unique about it that it can be done when there is no Temple and outside of Israel’s borders?

This universal application of challah-taking is a constant reminder of our connection to the Land of Israel, no matter where we find ourselves. It’s as if each time we separate challah, we’re metaphorically standing on Israeli soil, participating in a ritual that links us to our ancestral homeland. The Rabbis instituted this practice to help maintain a tangible, everyday connection to Israel for Jews living in the diaspora, keeping the hope and intention of an eventual return to Israel alive.

Through this simple yet powerful act, we connect with generations past and future, all united in the sacred task of making the ordinary extraordinary.

The Hebrew Bible is a very big book – actually, 24 books, to be exact. Studying it can feel very overwhelming. Where do you start?
Israel Bible Plus takes the stress out of Bible study, allowing you to focus on the most important task at hand: the Bible itself. Click here to bring even more Bible into your life!

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
Thwarting the Weapons of Technology
The Time is Now!
Broken Symbols, Broken Ideals

Related Articles

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email