Shelach Lecha

“It shall be that, when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set apart a portion for a gift to the Lord” Numbers 15:19


The drama of the twelve spies at the beginning of this week’s sidrah is followed by the instructions to take challah. Challah — unlike the colloquial use of the word — is the mitzvah to take a portion of dough to donate to the Cohen. 

In Temple times, when people made bread, they were commanded to give some of that bread to the priest. Today, in place of that mitzvah, we burn or dispose of a small portion of our dough when making any form of bread. (There are many laws pertaining to the quantities required to perform this mitzvah.)

 The connection between the story of the spies and the mitzvah of challah is very significant.

 The sages tell us that the spies’ original intention was for their spiritual protection. The Jews in the desert had spent the last year living under the protection of God Himself. Their food literally fell from heaven and their time was freed up for the pursuit of Torah study. 

On entering the land of Israel, the Jews were concerned that by beginning to toil the land, they would be busy with hard labour and distracted from their spiritual goals. They would then not only lose the manna, the food that fed them from heaven, but also their spiritual aspirations.This, as we know,was incorrect.

Challah comes from the word chol, which means “mundane” or “unelevated”. The mitzvah of challah is an opportunity for even bread, the most staple and standard of foods, to be used for a spiritual purpose. Because spirituality isn’t just in the books and theory. True spirituality is found in the integrating of those lofty ideals into our day-to-day life. 

Perhaps this is why the Jews of the desert are commanded to take challah directly after the sin of the twelve spies. It is to remind them that Judaism encompasses both the spiritual and physical dimension.

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