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The Secrets of Challah – Lecture 1

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Rachel's Tomb and Women's Mitzvot

Rachel’s Tomb is one of the most important places in the Land of Israel. Clinging to it with all of our hearts and minds helps us to hold on to and connect with the rest of the Land and hastens the imminent coming of the Mashiach.

Rachel’s Tomb is also naturally related to Jewish femininity. In Kabbalah, Rachel is the archetypal figure of the sefirah of kingdom—the Divine channel of creation that is most related to women. In the Torah there are three mitzvot that are particularly related to women, as it is women who either mostly or exclusively perform them:1

Challah – the separation of a small part of kneaded dough before it is baked into bread and donating it to the cohanim (the priests) Nidah – the laws of family purity

* Shabbat Candle-lighting (hadlakat haner, in Hebrew) – the lighting of at least two candles every Shabbat eve before sunset.

Two of these mitzvotchallah and nidah—are prescribed by the Torah itself, while the third, the lighting of Shabbat candles is one of the seven mitzvot prescribed by the sages. Being that Rachel’s tomb is the zenith of Jewish femininity it is appropriate for us to focus on these mitzvot, in particular. In Hebrew, the first letter of the word for each of these mitzvot spells a name: Chanah. The first letter of “challah” is a chet, the first letter of “nidah” is a nun, and the first letter of “hadlakat haner” is a hei. Chanah is of course spelled: chet nun hei. Like in every word in Hebrew, the primary letter of Chanah is the first one, in our case the chet hich stands for challah. So, we will begin by looking at the mitzvah of challah. As we shall see later, the separation of challah relates specifically to our matriarch Rachel.

Feminine Order

Often in Kabbalah these three mitzvot are corresponded to particular holy vessels that were in the sanctuary.2 The lighting of Shabbat candles clearly corresponds to the Menorah, the seven-candle candelabra that was lit every day in the sanctuary, and was located on its southern wall; the separation of challah corresponds to the Face-bread (lechem hapanim) that was baked once a week and placed on the Table of the Face-bred (shulchan hapanim), which was located on the northern wall, facing the Menorah.

Nidah , the laws of family purity, correspond to the Alter of Incense (mizbe’ach haktoret). The Hebrew word for “incense” is k’toret. In Aramaic this word means “bond.” When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, taught his students on his day of passing, he quoted the verse: “I am to my beloved and He yearns for me.”3 He then explained: “All the days that I have bonded, I have bonded singularly, with the Almighty, and now He yearns for me.”4The “bond” between the Jewish people and God that is created by the Alter of Incense corresponds to the singular bond created between husband and wife by the laws of family purity.


vessel in tabernacle

lighting of Shabbat candles (הדלקת הנר )


separation of challah (חלה )

table of the Face-bread

family purity (נדה )

alter of Incense

These three vessels also correspond to the three emotional attributes, the sefirot of the heart: the Menorah corresponds to loving-kindness; the Table to might; and the Alter of Incense to beauty, whose inner experience is one of mercy, or compassion (midat harachamim)—the ideal sentiment upon which to base marital relationships. One of the basic doctrines of Kabbalah taught by the Arizal is that everything has a source in a higher realm, which in practice acts as its inner essence, described as enclothed within it. This is true of these three vessels and of their corresponding sefirot, whose source is in the intellectual sefirot: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, which constitute the inner life-force of the soul: loving-kindness originates in wisdom, might originates in understanding, and beauty originates in knowledge.

An illustration for these relationships can be found in the Amidah, the main part of Jewish liturgy. In the first benediction (b’racha) we say: “Blessed are You God our Lord and the Lord of our forefathers; the Lord of Abraham, the Lord of Isaac, and the Lord of Jacob.” Each patriarch is the archetypal figure for one of the emotional faculties: Abraham for loving-kindness, Isaac for might, and Jacob for beauty. According to the syntax of this benediction (and as explained in the Talmud5), each one had a different conception of God, which corresponds to each of their souls’ origin in the Almighty, just as each emotional faculty has a separate source in the intellectual faculties of the soul.






Lighting of Shabbat candles



Separation of Challah



Family purity

So now we have that challah corresponds to might, and its inner source is in understanding. Since the sefirah of understanding in Kabbalah corresponds with the “mother principle” (partzuf Ima) we have another justification for identifying it as the most central of the three mitzvot for women discussed above. In addition, the numerical value of the word “Chanah” in Hebrew is 63, which is the filled value66 of the essential Name of God, Havayah, which corresponds to the “mother principle.” As for the remaining two elements in this correspondence: family purity, or the “laws of nidah” clearly relate to the sefirah of knowledge, as knowledge is the source of the ability to connect and bond in the soul.77 The light given by candles in general and Shabbat candles in particular, is a metaphor for the sefirah of wisdom. Shabbat in general is identified in the teachings of the Arizal with the sefirah of wisdom, the experience of the light of new insight.

We can analyze these three feminine mitzvot in another way.

Though God’s essential Name, Havayah contains four letters (and is therefore sometimes called the Tetragrammaton) it has only three unique letters: yudhei, and vav. Three unique letters can be arranged in six different permutations. Each of these permutations corresponds to and arouses one of the six sefirot of loving-kindness (chesed), might (gevurah), beauty (tiferet), victory (netzach), acknowledgment (hod), and foundation (yesod)—also called the six extensions of the heart.8

might (gevurah)
hei vav yud

loving-kindness (chesed)
yud hei vav

beauty (tiferet)
vav yud hei

acknowledgment (hod)
hei yud vav

victory (netzach)
yud vav hei

foundation (yesod)
vav hei yud

These three letters—yudhei, and vav—as they appear in God’s essential Name, correspond to the sefirot wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, respectively. Thus, the order of the feminine mitzvot based on the acronym Chanah (challahnidahhadlakat haner) is understanding-wisdom-knowledge, or heivavyud, which arouses the faculty of might in the heart. So not only does the first letter of Chanah allude to the feminine sefirah of understanding, but the acronym as a whole alludes to the sefirah of might—the most feminine of the heart’s qualities. The inner experience of might is “fear,” in the sense of fear, or awe, of the Almighty. Because of this, king Solomon says: “the woman who fears God is praiseworthy.”9

Chanah and the Eve of Rosh Chodesh

We will make one more point about the relationship between the sefirot of understanding and might. There is a verse that highlights this relationship: “I am understanding, I have might.”10 In pre-Arizal Kabbalistic teachings this verse was explained to imply that might is an extension of understanding (as explained above). However, the Arizal added a deeper interpretation by which the verse implies that the might of the sefirah of crown is the inner soul of understanding—the might of crown is enclothed within the sefirah of understanding. Even though according to both explanations of this verse understanding and might are interdependent, the Arizal’s explanation alludes to the final and rectified role of the feminine. Every lunar month, the moon goes through a cycle of phases—from completely disappearing to full moon and back again. The zero-point, the point at which the moon disappears, is actually the eve of the new Jewish month (erev rosh chodesh). It is on this day that a woman can reach her inner sense of nothingness, or nullification, in the spiraling cycle that goes from somethingness to nothingness to somethingness, and so on. When we merit the revelation of the Mashiach, there will no longer be a diminishment of the moon, and the feminine (the “woman of valor”) will become her husband’s crown (eshet chayil ateret ba’ala);11 that is, the female will rise above the male and super-consciously provide guidance and nourishment. Whereas Rachel is associated with the sefirah of kingdom, Chanah is associated with the image of a mother figure. In the Bible, Chanah was the prophet Samuel’s mother. With her prayers12 she created the basis for the royal lineage in the Jewish people, and hence was also the mother of “kingdom.”

Challah , Nidah, and Candlelighting on Shabbat Eve

Let us look at the order in which women perform these three mitzvot in preparation for Shabbat—the ultimate manifestation of the feminine in the context of time. Challah is the first mitzvah done when the challah loaves for Shabbat are baked (as we shall see later on, there is a deep significance that the Shabbat bread has come to be known as “challah,” even though challah is taken from weekday bread as well), usually long before Shabbat (on Thursday night or Friday morning). Candle-lighting time is next, as the Shabbat candles must be lit before Shabbat. Finally, the holiness of family purity is revealed on the Shabbat eve, after the Shabbat meal. The order here is hei yud vav. Because it begins with a hei, we know that it corresponds to the left line of the sefirot. But this time it corresponds to the sefirah of hod, majesty and aura. This sefirah is strongly related with the first three words we say when waking up in the morning: “I acknowledge before you” (Modeh ani lefanecha) whose numerical value is equal to the numerical value of “woman” (isha), in Hebrew, as this is a feminine quality: the ability to acknowledge and give thanks for something. (The name Rachel is inscribed in the Modeh ani, in an equidistant skipping of letters that allows it to continue cycling through infinitely. This is considered the most optimal distance between letters). The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, that in an extended way, the mitzvah of challah includes all the laws of keeping kosher (kashrut): feeding the whole family and guests. As explained in the Talmud, when the woman gives charity in the form of ready-to-eat-food, it is considered much greater than the monetary charity that her husband gives. This mitzvah is the essence of nutrition and nourishing the family.

Challah in the Torah

The mitzvah of separating challah in the Torah is found in five verses in the portion of Shlach Lecha (Numbers 15:17-21). Shlach Lecha is the 37th portion of the Torah. This portion begins with a recounting of the “transgression of the spies” (cheit hameraglim), which caused the nation of Israel to wander for 40 years in the desert instead of proceeding directly into the Land of Israel. As we shall see the mitzvah of challah is the primary rectification for the nation’s abandonment of the Land of Israel. Whereas challah is one of the three mitzvot dedicated for women, the final verses of this same Torah portion describe the mitzvah of tzitzit,13 which is the primary rectification for the men’s role in abandoning the Land of Israel (even though it is definitely permissible for a woman to wear tzitzit and there were many great women who did). Nonetheless, the Torah does not explicitly mention that challah is for women and tzitzit for men.

Challah in the Oral Torah

In the oral Torah, i.e., the Mishnah, there is an entire tractate dedicated to the mitzvah of challah. From this tractate’s contents we will see that challah should indeed be strongly related with women and that it is connected to the Land of Israel and rectifying the Jewish people’s connection to the Land. The tractate of Challah is in the first Order (seder) of the Mishnah, known as Seeds (Zera’im). In this Order, Challah is ninth of eleven tractates (the first is Blessings-berachot and the last is First Fruits-bikurim). This tractate only has Jerusalem Talmud to it but no Bablyonian Talmud. The eleven tractates in this Order correspond to the sefirot from crown to kingdom, inclusive of knowledge. The first tractate, Berachot corresponds to crown. One of the topics central to the tractate of Berachot are the laws of Keriyat Shma, the essential Jewish statement of faith—faith being a super-conscious faculty located in the sefirah of crown. The tenth tractate of the Order, Orla (referring to fruit of a tree less than three years old), clearly relates to the sefirah of foundation, as the procreative organ upon which there is a human orla also corresponds to foundation. Finally, Challah is the ninth tractate, which corresponds to acknowledgment, the final feminine sefirah of the left axis. Elsewhere we have elaborated in length on the connection between acknowledgment and the body’s immune system, stressing the deep connection between acknowledgment’s feminine character and the immune system.14

The Segulot of Challah

The Arizal developed his entire conceptual scheme as a foundation for the intentions (kavanot) that he taught a person should have in mind while performing particular mitzvot. In the Arizal’s Kabbalah, the outcome of every act is entirely dependent on the understanding and knowledge that the person possesses regarding what is “going on” in the higher realms to the minutest detail. Otherwise, the intent (kavanah) is not whole and the action suffers from a lack of “fuel.” Chassidut, though, as based on the guidance of the Ba’al Shem Tov, explains that above “intent” is faith. The simple faith in the Almighty shared by even the most common people, is more powerful than any intellectual intent that a scholar might have while performing a mitzvah. Simple faith means believing that since God commanded us to do so and so, it is beneficial for us, whether we understand it or not. This does not mean that God prefers an ignoramus, but that God demands that even the greatest scholar act out of a feeling of simple faith in the Almighty’s will. Studying a mitzvah in-depth leads to a glimpse of what its efficacy might be. Unlike “intentions,” which require the individual to have an understanding, efficacy of a mitzvah as gathered from its study, works well with simple faith, as in the end, a person is simply full of faith that every mitzvah is efficacious. What a mitzvah is efficacious for, i.e., its “efficacies” are called its segulot in Hebrew. As we shall see (not all in today’s lecture) the mitzvah of challah has altogether 10 different segulot.

Challah , Rachel, and the Land of Israel

Let us begin our analysis of the mitzvah of challah in the Torah by looking at the five verses in which it is described (one verse to a line):

And in translation (verses 17-21): 17) Havayah spoke to Moshe, saying: 18) Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “As you come into the land into which I am bringing you there. 19) When you eat of the bread of the land, you shall offer up a gift (terumah) to Havayah. 20) [From] the first of your dough, you shall offer up a cake (challah) as a gift (terumah); like the gift of the threshing-floor, so you shall offer it up. 21) From the first of your dough, you shall give to Havayah an offering, throughout your generations.”

The first verse is a general introduction that appears before many mitzvot. The verse that actually describes the act of the mitzvah is the fourth (20) and in it the word “challah appears for the first time. “Challah” is spelled: chet-lamed-hei. “Rachel” is spelled: reish-chet-lamed. In Hebrew grammar, the letter reish is considered to be a weak letter (second only to the letters called the he’emantiv letters: hei-alef-mem-nun-tav-yud-vav) and is not part of the two-letter sub-root. Therefore, “Rachel” and “challah” actually share a common etymology, from the two-letter sub-root chet-lamed. The link between Rachel and challah becomes stronger by noting that the sages commented that the “coming into the Land of Israel” here is different than all the other times that the Torah talks of entering the Land of Israel . The Torah usually uses a different idiom: “when you come,” (“ki tavo’u,” in the Hebrew) or “when God brings you…” (“ki yavi’acha,” in the Hebrew) not “as you come” (“bebo’achem,” in the Hebrew). All other mitzvot that are conditional on living in the Land of Israel were to be performed only once the Jewish people had conquered and settled the land (a process that took fourteen years). Whereas, because of the change in idiom, the sages learn that challah must be performed from the moment that the people enter the Land. Thus, challah is the foundational mitzvah that carries the consciousness of the Land of Israel. In Chassidut, the goal of entering (or returning, in our times) to the Land of Israel is identified as the “construction of Rachel.” “Constructing Rachel” stands for the essential task of setting-up a Torah guided community, as prescribed by God, in the Holy Land. It follows therefore that challah and Rachel are further connected by their contribution to the consciousness of the Land of Israel. This connection is further emphasized by another teaching of the sages: “I would have thought that even when the first two or three Jews step foot in the land. Nonetheless, challah is prescribed only once the majority of Jews enter the land.”15 Said another way,challah is required by the (written) Torah only when most of the Jewish people live in the Land of Israel (“rov yoshveha aleha”). Ever since the first exile this mitzvah has only been required by the sages, because during the return of the exiles in the time of Ezra, only a small percentage of Jews returned to the Land of Israel.16 We now have a better understanding of how challah is related to the Land of Israel . Every mitzvah given by the Almighty is a conduit of spiritual strength. Every mitzvah is meant to provide us with the spiritual strength to accomplish different tasks in life. Through challah, which is required from the moment that the Jewish people enter the Land of Israel, we receive the strength to assume ownership over the Land of Israel . (Note that when performing the mitzvah of challah, you should have in mind each of these segulot of the mitzvah.) The numerical value of the Hebrew word for “as you come” (bebo’achem – spelled: bet bet alef kaf mem, which equal 2, 2, 1, 20, 40) is 65 which is also the numerical value of the Name of God, Adni17 (spelled: alef dalet nun yud, which equal 1, 4, 50, and 10) that corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom. The earth in general and the Land of Israel in particular also correspond to the sefirah of kingdom. Thus this numerical equality implies that the mitzvah of challah strengthens our awareness that God is the Lord of the land (Lord, is the usual translation for Adni). Since this word has five letters, the average value of each is 13, which equals the Hebrew words for “love,” (ahavah, spelled: alef hei bet hei, or 1, 5, 2, 5) and “one” (echad, spelled: alef chetdalet, or 1, 8, 4). The two-letter sub-root of challah and Rachel, chetlamed, means a number of different things, among them “beginning,” alluding to its being the first mitzvah conditional of entering the Land of Israel . It also means “sickness,” and “sweetness.” Sometimes at the end of the monthly cycle a woman feels sick. But, as one cycle ends, a new one begins. Thus challah is a beginning of the sweetening of the bitter.


Based on all of the above, we suggest that one of the rooms upstairs [in Rachel’s Tomb] be made into a bakery, where women (nashim tzidkaniyot, literally: “righteous women”) can bake bread and sell. The name of this city, which is a suburb of Jerusalem, is Beit Lechem ( Bethlehem ) which literally means “House of Bread,” tying the general location clearly with the mitzvah of challah. Furthermore, the two-letter sub-root of the word for “bread,” lechem, is made of the same two letters lamedchet (the mem falls) as that of Rachel and challah. Again, this mitzvah gives the initial consciousness needed by the Jewish people returning to the Land of Israel. It grants us the power to openly declare before the entire world that the Land of Israel was given to us by the Almighty. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said many times, most civilized cultures accept the Bible as true, and would we declare that the Bible is our claim to this land, it would be accepted without war and without strife.


We might think that “entering the Land” creates a “new” situation, and that someone else might have an “earlier” claim to the same real-estate. To dispel this, note that the initial letters of the phrase “as you enter the Land” (bebo’achem el ha’aretz) spell the word ba’ah (bet alef hei). First, this word ba’ah, is used twice to describe Rachel (there is no other individual in all Five Books of Moses of whom this is said even once). When Jacob arrived at the well where he met Rachel for the first time and inquired of Laban, his uncle, the shepherds that were waiting there replied: “He is well, and here is his daughter Rachel coming (ba’ah) with the flock… As he was talking with them, Rachel came (ba’ah) with the flock.”18 Rashi , the basic commentary on the Torah, makes a grammatical point that though the word ba’ah is spelled the same both times, in the first instance, because it pronounced with a stress on the last syllable it is in the present tense, while in the second instance, because the first syllable is stressed, it is in the past tense. In Hebrew grammar, a stressed first syllable (past tense) is called milel, and a stressed final syllable is called milra. These words literally mean “above” (milel) and “below” (milra). When teaching this grammatical concept, the Rebbe Rashab explained to his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, that “below” refers to the world of Creation, Formation and Action—our normal day-to-day consciousness—and “above” refers to the world of Emanation (atzilut). “Below” we enact in the present that which has already occurred in the past “above!” Thus, the entering into the Land of Israel is a present-tense enactment of the relationship between the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel which has always existed.

The Hidden Rachel in Challah

Let us see how Rachel’s name is hidden within these verses. The fourth verse beings with the word “reishit,” which means “the first.” Together with the third word “challah,” it forms a notrikon (an acronym) of the name Rachel. However, there is another letter reish (needed to complete “challah” into “Rachel”) which is closer to the word “challah” in the word “arisoteichem.” We mentioned above that the letter reish is “weak” in the sense that it can “fall” to reveal the more basic meaning of a word. One of the basic examples of this is here in the word “arisoteichem,” which without the letter reish in it spells the word “isoteichem,” which means “dough.” [In Talmudic Hebrew, arisa (the singular form of arisoteichem) means the vessel in which the dough is kneaded.19 In the Bible there is a similar word, eress which means a “bed.”] Note that this word arisoteichem appears twice, once in the fourth verse and another time in the fifth. In its first appearance arisoteichem does not have a final (plural) yud, while in its second appearance it does. What we learn from this word is that only if there is water, that is, only when the flour has become dough, that we are required to perform the mitzvah of challah.

The Five Grains and “Love” Numbers

So now, if we construct the letters of Rachel out of the reish of arisoteichem and the chetlamed of challah, we see that the remaining letters between them (samech tav kaf mem) spell the word kusemet, which as we shall see is an important type of wheat. Any introductory class on Jewish cooking in the kitchen should begin with the “five grains.” Two of them are mentioned in the Seven Species that the Land of Israel was blessed with: wheat and barley.20 The special standing of these five grains is that we can perform the mitzvah of eating matzah on Passover with them.21 In fact, the numerical value of “matzah” (spelled: mem tzadik hei = 40, 90, 5) and “dough” (issa, spelled: ayin samechhei = 70, 60, 5) is the same. There are three more species of grains that though botanically distinct are considered by the sages to be sub-species of wheat and barely. Their names in Hebrew are kusemet (kusmin, in Talmudic Hebrew),shifon, and shibolet shualKusemet is considered a sub-species of wheat, whereas shifon and shibolet shual are sub-species of barley. Knowing the taxonomy here is important because the first two are considered two different species altogether and cannot join to make the minimal amount of dough needed for challah to be taken.22 Of all the five grains, kusemet has a special quality. Though normally identified as a sub-species of wheat, it is also considered a sub-species of barley, meaning that it can be joined with both wheat and barley to make the amount of flour needed to perform the mitzvah of challah. This can be seen from the first mishnah of the tractate of Challah.23 Thus, there is something more amorphous and primary about kusemet that makes it the most general grain, even more than wheat and barley. This point needs to be explained from a botanical scientific perspective, as well. Looking at this word “kusemet” (spelled: kaf samech mem tav, which equal 20, 60, 40, 400) numerically we see that it equals 520. 520 is a multiple of the numerical value of God’s essential Name, Havayah (26): 26 times 20. But it is also the value of the full name of the city of Rachel ’s Tomb, Beit Lechem Yehudah (spelled: bet yud tav, lamed chet memyud hei vav dalet hei, which equal 2 10 400, 30 8 40, 10 5 6 4 5). Because learning about the Jewish kitchen begins with a lesson on the five grains, this relates to the first word of the tractate of Challah, “five”: “Five things obligate challah: wheat, barley, kusminshibolet shoal, and shifon.” The Hebrew word for “five” (chamisha), is a permutation of the letters of the word for “joy,” (simcha). We talked in length about the relationship between challah and the sefirah of understanding, the feminine principle. The inner experience of understanding in Chassidut is joy!


Until now we have refrained from translating the names of the three sub-species of grains. Indeed, there are commonly known translations based on our traditional identification of these grains. However, according to botanical experts, especially Prof. Yehudah Felix, these identifications are botanically impossible because the grains traditionally identified with these sub-species did not grow natively in the Land of Israel during Biblical and Talmudic times, and therefore could not have been the ones that the sages were referring to. The customary translation of kusemet is buckwheat; shibolet shoal is oats; shipon is rye. Prof. Felix identifies the Rabbinic sub-species as follows:

Kusemet : rice-wheat. Shibolet Shual : two rowed barley.
Shifon : spelt-wheat.

Nonetheless, since “the custom of Israel is [like a decree of] the Torah” (minhag yisrael Torah),24 so nowadays, if we were to include the original three sub-species with their traditional identification we would have altogether 8 grains. Because these “mistaken” grains have “taken root” thanks to mistaken identity, we can now see that the special species of the Land of Israel relate to a well-known series of numbers known secularly as the Fibonacci Series and in the Torah as the “Ahava (Love) Series.”25 First there are the primary species, wheat (1) and barely (1). Wheat has one sub-species, kusemet (1), while barley has two sub-species, shibolet shual and shipon (2). Altogether there are 2 wheat species and 3 species of barely. With the 3 “authentic” sub-species, we get 8 grains. Finally, adding the 5 remaining species with which the Land of Israel was blessed, we have 13.These numbers form the following series: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 … Each number is a sum of the two preceding numbers. Following this same vein, the ordinal value of the four letters in the Hebrew word for “five” are: chet = 8, mem = 13, shin = 21, and hei = 5; all are in this series, as well. But “five” is also a number in the series! So the name of the number 5 and the numerical values of its letters, in Hebrew, are both in this series. There is no other number that when spelled out has this characteristic. Thus we might want to call the whole (Fibonacci) series: the series of joy (simcha), since “joy” and “five” have the same letters.

The Evolution of Challah

The meaning of the word “challah” has gone through three stages of evolution. According to many legal authorities, in the Torah, the word “challah” refers to the dough from which a portion is separated as a donation to the priests. The portion of dough separated is called the “terumah.”26 That is why there are certain opinions that the blessing recited before performing this mitzvah should end with the words “to separate out a terumah.”27 However, according to the sages (Rabbinic Hebrew) challah refers to the portion that is separated as a donation, and therefore the blessing ends with the words: “to separate out a challah.” This is another beautiful example of how “the custom of Israel is [like a decree of] the Torah” (minhag yisrael Torah),24 Since we rule that the blessing is “separating out a challah,” not “a terumah.” Finally, by “challah” we today refer only to the bread baked for Shabbat, even though the mitzvah ofchallah is performed on all dough (of a minimal quantity), whether it be intended for baking bread for Shabbat or for a weekday. So, in the Torah all the dough is called “challah,” in Rabbinic Hebrew it is only the portion that is separated, and in Jewish custom (minhag Yisrael) it is specifically the bread of Shabbat; no longer the dough-form but the baked form.

In general, every Jewish concept has three meanings: its meaning in the written Torah, its meaning in the oral Torah (Rabbinic rulings) and as it is understood in actual observance (the custom of Israel). These three (sometimes different) meanings originate from the three highest parts of the sefirah of crown, as follows:28

part of crown

origin of a concept's meaning in

the concealed mind (mocha stima'ah)

the Written Torah

the skull (gulgalta)

the Oral Torah

the unknowable head (radla)

the custom of Israel

This correspondence, where the (chronologically) later meaning stems from the highest source while the earliest stems from the lowest is an example of the phenomenon of an “inverse seal” (chotam hamit’hapech): in a seal, wherever the image on the seal is deepest the impression (on the paper or on the wax) is highest, and wherever the seal protrudes most, the impression will be deepest. This is also an example of quantum logic. In binary logic negating the negative yields a positive. In quantum logic it does not always. These three stages of evolution of the meaning of “challah” also correspond to the three stages of every complete process in the psyche: submission, separation, and sweetening.29The sweetening is of course the sweet challah that we make for Shabbat (the traditional meaning). Separation is clearly the act of separating “challah” from the dough (the Rabbinic meaning). Submission here is identifying “challah” as dough that has something that needs to be taken out, there is some, as it were, “illness” in it (its tevel, the legal term for something that is still not fit to be used) before the mitzvah is performed.

Connecting Heaven and Earth

The minimal measure of dough from which we are obligated to extract challah is 43 eggs and a fifth. The sages arrived at this number by comparing the word “bread,” which appears here and in the description of the manna.30 The Torah tells us that the measure of manna that each individual ate daily was an “omer,”31 which is 43 eggs and a fifth. But the manna is described as “bread from the heavens,” while challah is described as “bread of the Land”! From this the Talmud learns that a “healthy person” eats this amount of bread daily.


The fourth verse has exactly 43 letters. 43 is also the numerical value of the word “challah” (chet = 8, lamed = 30, hei = 5). This is the only time the word “challah” appears in the entire Five Books of Moses. (This can also help explain why it is that in this verse, unlike the preceding verse, “arisoteichem” is spelled with an additional letter yud.) This is a beautiful example of self-reference in the Torah. The numerical value of the entire last two verses is 40 times 238. Rachel is equal to 238! (reish = 200, chet = 8, lamed = 30). But 40 is the value of Rachel when computed using the ordinal value of each letter (reish = 20, chet = 8, lamed = 12). So actually, we can say that the last two verses are Rachel (238) times Rachel (40)! The numerical value of the entire first three verses (with a kolel, and inclusive “one” that ties the verses together) is 26 times 238, or the Name Havayah (26) times Rachel!

 “Throughout Your Generations”

A particular numerical relation introduces this next meditation on the verses of challah. The phrase “as you enter the Land” (בבאכם אל הארץ ) that we saw above equals Joshua (spelled: יהושע ) with the kolel.32 Indeed, Joshua was the leader who merited performing this phrase in actuality. The only time that we came into the Land of Israel as a whole was when Joshua led us across the Jordan River. Obviously, the literal meaning of this phrase refers to Joshua himself. In many of his last talks, the Lubavitcher Rebbe talked about the word miyad, meaning “immediately.” One of the more enigmatic acronyms that the Rebbe gave for this word was: Moshe, Joshua, their generation (Moshe,Yehoshuadoram).33 The condition of every immediate redemption is the union of Moses, Joshua and their generation. According to Kabbalah, the generation that received the Torah was from a higher world than the generation that Joshua led into the land. But the Rebbe was saying that they were in essence one. Indeed, in Kabbalah we learn that the generation of the coming of the Mashiach is the same generation that received that Torah. But, as we see today, this is the same generation that now needs to enter and take possession of the land. How can this be seen in the verses of challah? In the second verse there is a seemingly redundant word “there” (shama): “As you come into the land into which I am bringing you there.” First note that “there” (spelled: shin mem hei) is a permutation of “Moshe” (spelled: mem shin hei). It is as if Moshe is eternally present in the Land of Israel, even though the Torah says that he never set foot in it in the flesh. According to the sages, this extra word “there,” teaches us that grain that was grown outside of the Land of Israel but was subsequently brought “there,” is obligated with the mitzvah of challah. (If the situation is the opposite—grain grown in the Land of Israel is taken out the land—challah does not need to be separated.) This implies that Moshe is still here, in the Land of Israel. This is illustrated by the verse, “The sun will rise, and the sun will set, and to its place it strives, it rises there.”34 Moshe is described as the sun with respect to his student, Joshua, who is described as the moon. Thus, even though this verse usually indicates the “changing of the guard,” the transfer of power from one leader to the next, since it is the sun that is both rising and setting, it is actually the same person. The ruling learnt from the seemingly redundant “there” is offered by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with him.35 In order to explain what their disagreement is about, we need to recall that Rabbi Akiva was the offspring of converts to Judaism, and he himself was a ba’al teshuvah. Metaphorically, he is saying that: if I was grown outside of the Land of Israel, i.e., I was not always in the fold, but then I was kneaded in the Land of Israel, I returned to the fold of the Torah, I need to perform challah, i.e., I am just as much obliged as someone who was always in the fold. Challahthus turns out to be a special mitzvah for ba’alei teshuvah (the same cannot be said of all the other terumot uma’asarot). (Maimonides ruled that not just challah, but all terumah in our times, is a Rabbinic requirement only.36 But many commentaries do not understand how he learns this. According to the Kesef Mishneh, Maimonides learns this from comparing all terumah to challah.37 In any case, challah becomes the first type of terumah that we give and that connects us to the Land of Israel. On the other hand, even outside of the Land of Israel, we perform the mitzvah of challah. This is very surprising: because, there are no other terumot and ma’asarot, which we are required to perform while not in the Land of Israel. What we say therefore is that the sages started a minhag, a custom, that we perform challah outside of Land of Israel – “so that we do not forget it.” It follows therefore that Challah has a specialsegulah for remembering; for improving one’s memory, especially for women. Still we may ask: why was challah chosen to remind us of our special obligations when in the Land of Israel? Why is challah different than all the otherterumot uma’asarot? The answer is, as mentioned above, that challah and the Land of Israel, are related to one another. The mitzvah of challah therefore has the segulah to constantly remind us of the Land of Israel. Let us return to our discussion of the acronym given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the word “immediately:” Moshe, Joshuah, their generation (doram, spelled: dalet vav reish mem). The initial letters of each of the four verses of the mitzvah of challah, aredalet vav reish mem! So now we have Moshe (the letters of “there,” in the second verse) and Joshua (the numerical value of the phrase “as you enter the Land,” together with their generation. Between them, the four verses (2 thru 5) have 37 words (the Torah portion in which they appear, parshat Shelach, is the 37th) and 160 letters. 37 is the numerical value of Abel (spelled: hei bet lamed, which equal 5, 2, 30) while 160 is the numerical value of Cain (spelled: kufyud nun, which equal 100, 10, 50)—the two original brothers of creation. Meaning, that challah also is a segulah for reconciling brothers. According to the Arizal, all souls that tend to the “left” (politically, as well) stem from Cain, while all the souls that tend to the right stem from Abel. Indeed, today, just like in Genesis, the left (Cain) has a tendency to want to kill the right (Abel). But when the Mashiach comes there will be a reconciliation between them. The real peace treaty that is needed is the one within the Jewish people. So when extracting challah, you should have in mind the reconciliation of brothers, Cain with Abel as they manifest in our generation.

(Based on a class given 29 Shevat 5765, February 8, 2005 at Rachel's Tomb)

Image by By Aviv Hod – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

1. See Mishnah Shabbat 2:6.

2. In this month’s (Adar I) readings in the Torah (parashot), especially the Torah portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh, we read of the commandment to construct the Tabernacle—the first instance of a sanctuary for the Almighty. Moreover, the Tabernacle and its vessels of service hold a special significance for women. The Tabernacle was tended by the priests, or, in the time of the wanderings in the desert by Aaron and his sons. Moses connected with God through the prophecy he heard as it came from between the cherubim seated on top of the Holy Ark. But, Aaron and his sons connected with God by their service in the Tabernacle. The priests’ holy duties in the Tabernacle were in many respects similar to the types of tasks every homemaker is responsible for, making them relatively feminine with respect to the duties of Moses. Today, every woman can take inspiration from the duties of the priests by realizing that every Jewish home can be and should be a sanctuary for the Infinite light of God.

3. Song of Songs 7:11.

4Zohar III, 288a.

5Yoma 69b.

6. The filled value is found by “filling out” each letter of a word as that letter would be spelled out. The letters of the essential Name of God, Havayah are: yud hei vav hei. Because both the hei and the vav can be “filled” in three different ways each, there are altogether twenty-seven different way to “fill out” the Name Havayah. Of these twenty-seven, the Arizal identified four as major, one of which is 63, the value of the word “Chanah.” To get 63 the letters are “filled out” as follows: yud vav dalethei yudvav alef vavhei yud, which have the numerical values: 10 6 4, 5 10, 6 1 6, 5 10, which altogether equal 63.

7. See also “Bridging Mind and Heart.”

8. See Sod Hashem Liyerei’av p. 102.

9. Proverbs 31:30.

10. Ibid. 8:14.

11. Ibid. 12:4.

12. See I Samuel, chapter 2.

13. The tzitzit are fringe-threads tied at the extremes of a four-cornered garment.

14. See Body, Mind, and Soul, pp. 98-109 and 123ff.

15. See Rashi on verse 18; Sifrei on this verse.

16. See also Ramban to Gitin 36a.

17Adni is the Name pronounced in place of the prohibited pronunciation of God's essential Name, Havayah.

18. Genesis 29:6 and 9.

19. Also called the areiva or misheret.

20. See Exodus 9:32.

21. As in the verse: “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

22. Mishnah Pesachim 2:5.

23. See Tosafot s.v. “Kusmin” to Pesachim 35a.

24. A common saying that regards previous generations’ customs as legally obligating. See Tosafot s.v. “Nifsal” to Menachot 20b.

25. See Rabbi Ginsburgh’s upcoming book on the Golden Section for a complete study of this very important series in the Torah in general and in the Arizal’s Kabbalah in particular.

26Ra’abad on Maimonides Hilchot Bikurim 5:11, based on She’iltot Derav Achai Gaon.

27Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 228:1.

28. See Tanya Igeret Hakodesh 20 (131a). See also Rebbe Isaac of Homil's Ma'amar Hashabat which explains this passage in the Tanya.

29. For an in-depth explanation of these three stages, see Transforming Darkness into Light.

30. Exodus 16:4.

31. Ibid. 16:16.

32Bet bet alef kaf mem alef lamed hei alef reish tzadik, which equal: 2, 2, 1, 20, 40, 1, 30, 5, 1, 200, 90. Altogether there sum is 392. Joshua (spelled: yud hei vav shin ayin = 10, 5, 6, 300, 70 = 391). With the kolel, Joshua also equals 392.

33Torat Menachem 5752 vol. II, p. 221 (Farbrengen of Shabbat Yitro, 20 Shevat 5752).

34. Ecclesiastes 1:5.

35Sifrei on the verse.

36Hilchot Isurei Bi’ah 20:3; Hilchot Terumot 1:26.

37. Ibid.

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