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Parshas Shelach

Soul Food
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

This week's parsha contains the mitzva of challa. When we knead dough, we are required to set aside a portion to be given to a Kohen. The designated portion is known as challa, and has the same status as tithe. Nowadays, since we are temeim, spiritually impure, challa cannot be eaten, rather it is burnt.

The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 385) explains the reason for this precept. Since man depends on food for his sustenance and bread is the staple in the human diet, Hashem wished to benefit us with a constant mitzva associated with bread. Through fulfilment of this mitzva, a blessing will rest on it, and we will be spiritually rewarded. In this way, our bread provides food for both the body and soul.

The Aznaim L'Torah elaborates on the blessing we receive by fulfilling this mitzva. He writes that when a government imposes a tax, luxury items are often targeted but not essential commoditites. Bread, the basic food of the poorest citizen is never taxed. Furthermore, many governments subsidise the cost of bread so that the poor will not go hungry. The Torah however decrees the opposite. The mitzva of challa applies only to bread and not to other foods.

The Aznaim L'Torah explains that governments impose taxes to increase their own wealth. Therefore they tax luxury, and not basic items such as bread. The Torah however, declares "Aseir t'aseir - You shall tithe" (Devarim 14:22). Chazal expound "Aseir b'shvil she't'asheir - tithe so that you may become wealthy" (Midrash Tanchuma).

Hashem "taxes" us to increase our wealth, not to reduce it. By separating challa from our main source of nourishment, we receive a special blessing, as it is written: "The first of your kneading shall you give to the Kohen, to put a blessing upon your home" (Yechezkel 44:30).

The Chinuch mentioned that since man depends on bread for his sustenance, He wished to provide us with a constant mitzva to benefit us. The simple meaning is that Hashem wished to give us many opportunities to fulfil mitzvos. In addition, the Chinuch is teaching us an important lesson. One spends many hours of the day on mundane matters. One works to earn a living, preparing meals for one's family and thrice daily one sits down to "break bread". It is very easy to assume that one is not performing avodas Hashem, service to Hashem, when attending to one's physical needs. Thus, Hashem gave us the mitzva of challa, and by fulfilling this mitzva, one sanctifies the mundane. Hashem in His infinite kindness gave us a wonderful opportunity. The constant act of eating has been elevated to the status of a mitzva. Furthermore, this constant mitzva serves as a reminder that all the mundane acts that we perform can be sanctified if done with the proper intentions. As Shlomo Hamelech exhorts us: "B'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu - know Hashem in all your ways" (Mishlei 3:6). Our every act should be for the sake of Heaven. When we eat and sleep in order to have the strength and energy to learn Torah and perform mitzvos, we imbue our every deed with holiness. (This subject is discussed at length in "Do not pass over the Korban Pesach", Moadim U'Zmanim Pesach 5762.)

The mitzva of challa was taught soon after the episode of the Meraglin, spies (see Seforno and Pirkei Torah to 15:20). Some commentators explain that the reason the meraglim wished to remain in the midbar, wilderness, instead of entering Eretz Yisrael, was because they felt they were living on a much higher spiritual plane than they would, once they entered Eretz Yisrael. In the midbar, they ate man, which came directly from the Heavens and is the food eaten by melachim (see Yoma 75b). The Bnei Yisrael were free from work and were able to immerse themselves in Torah. Upon entering Eretz Yisrael, the Bnei Yisrael would have to work the land and live a physical existence, eating the produce of the land. This is why Hashem gave them the mitzva of challa at this time. Separating challa taught them that by observing the mitzvos in their daily lives, they elevated the material world in which they live and is a greater achievement than living a heavenly existence (see Da'as Torah Bereshis p.113). The Sefas Emes adds that this idea is alluded to in the verse: "It shall be that when you will eat of the bread of the land tarimu teruma la Hashem- (you shall set aside a portion for Hashem)" (Bamidbar 15:19). The Sefas Emes adds that this idea is alluded to in the verse: it shall be that when you will eat of the bread of the land - tarimu teruma la Hashem (you shall set aside a portion for Hashem.) Literally, this means to elevate; by separating challah, the produce of the earth is elevated and it also reminded them to view all their undertakings as spiritual endeavours.

The Chinuch concludes that as a result of this mitzva, the bread provides sustenance for both one's body and soul. By separating challa from one's bread, the staple of the human diet, one realises that just like he needs bread to maintain his physical body, so too, he must feed his neshama, soul. One's soul cannot live without its nourishment, Torah and mitzvos. Every time we eat bread, we are reminded that we must also nourish our souls. R' Akiva compared a Jew without Torah to a fish out of water (see Berachos 61b); Torah and mitzvos are our lifeblood.

Let us dedicate our every deed to Hashem and let us remember that we must always nourish our souls. In this merit may we see the fulfilment of the verse: "When you come to the land to which I bring you it shall be that when you will eat of the bread of the land, you shall set aside a portion for Hashem"(verses 18,19).

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

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