Contemplating Hebrew Letters || Chet

8
chet

hlj
Challah

 

    . . . when you will eat of the bread of the Land, you shall set aside a portion for God. As the first of your kneading you shall set aside a loaf [Challah] as a portion, like the portion of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it aside.

 

Numbers 15:19–20

 

    The Bible mentions the concept of “setting aside” many times: Corners of the field are to be set aside for the poor; the first fruits of every season are to be brought as offerings during harvest festivals; animals are brought as sacrifices in the Temple period; and ten percent of one’s earnings is to be set aside for charity. In this case, Jews are instructed to set aside a portion of the first loaf of every batch of bread they bake for the High Priest.

 

    Today, when there’s no longer a Holy Temple at the center of Jewish ritual life, and Priests don’t serve the same function, the commandment shifts: A piece of dough is taken from the first batch and thrown into the back of the oven to burn, symbolizing the destruction of the Temple and the exile that exists because of that destruction. There are many customs to reflect the loss of the Temple, such as replacing sacrifices with prayer services, using salt on bread to symbolize the bitterness of living in an imperfect world, and leaving a small part of a newly built home unfinished to commemorate the physical destruction of the Temple structure.

 

    But “Taking Challah,” as the custom is called, is more than merely preserving an ancient and now practically irrelevant commandment. By physically removing a small piece of dough and making it inedible, eventually discarding it altogether, we remind ourselves that everything we own is temporary. You may think that all of the dough is yours—after all, you paid for the ingredients, mixed them together, and watched them rise— but really, nothing belongs to you alone. You’re given the wheat and the eggs and the water from a higher source, and by letting some of it go, you’re acknowledging that source.

 

    The root of Challah actually has nothing to do with bread (which is called, in Hebrew, lechem). Instead, the root is chol, which means “ordinary.” The days of the week are separated into Shabbatand chol, Sabbath and weekday. Challah, a food made holy despite its ordinary origins, is made especially to be eaten on the Sabbath. Something as plain as wheat is elevated to a level at which it can be blessed and sanctified as an integral part of the Sabbath meal.

 

    The concept of Challah extends into our daily lives: We all need to learn the kabalistic lesson of sharing in order to balance the energy of the universe. What we own is never entirely ours, and we could never truly need every single object in our possession. It’s crucial to make giving a part of our consciousness, whether it is to acknowledge the higher force that guards us all, to remember the harsher realities of life, or to give thanks for what we already have.

 

    The Chet card comes to teach us how we can let go of what we do not need. We can survive on bread and water alone, yet we rely on incredible luxuries as if they were necessary.

 

    It’s time to let go. Donate clothes you no longer wear to a homeless shelter; take food supplies to a soup kitchen; make a list of your dependencies, and then set the list aflame. You will feel an increased freedom as a result.

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