quick summary: The portion separated from the dough before it is baked,1which is then named challah, symbolizes our portion in the World to Come.
The Meaning of a Word
One of the earliest Kabbalistic works known as Ma’ayan Hachochmah, attributed to Moses himself, discusses the five different levels of meaning that every word in the Hebrew language possesses. These five levels are: meaning (tikun), permutation (tzeiruf), acronym (ma’amar), idiom (michlol), and numerical value (cheshbon).
- “Meaning” refers to the various linguistic meanings that the word has in the Bible, its first appearance carrying the most weight.
- “Permutation” refers to analyzing the six permutations of the word’s grammatical three-letter root.
- “Acronym” parallels the notion of “letter-filling” in Kabbalah (originally referred to in Talmudic commentaries as uncovering the “hidden part” of the word), whereby each of the word’s letters is expanded to form a complete word or phrase.
- “Idiom” is the manner in which the Bible uses a particular word together with another as a recurring phrase.
- “Numerical value” refers to computing the word's value in any of the various forms of gematria.
These five levels of a word’s various meaning correspond to the five levels (four letters, and the tip of the yud) of G-d’s essential Name, Havayah, as follows:
letter of G-d's Name
tip of yud
|loving-kindness to foundation
|numerical value (cheshbon)
As stated, the level of acronym is the idea that every word in Hebrew is an acronym for not just the simple “filling” of the letters of the word,2 but also for well-known phrases or verses whose initial letters spell that same word (this is how we arrived at the name Channah being an acronym of the three commandments given specifically to women:challah, nidah and, hadlakat haner).
The word challah is an acronym for the phrase chelek la’olahm habah, which literally means “a portion in the World to Come.”3 The sages say that “every Jew has a portion in the World to Come.”4
When making the blessing on separating the challah from the dough, we can hold in our minds the image that by taking out this little portion of dough we are preparing our portion in the World to Come.
The first word of this phrase, “portion” (chelek) is almost identical with the word “challah,” in Hebrew. The only difference is that the last letter of challah, hei, becomes akuf in the word for “portion.” In “living with the times,” Sefer Yetzirah explains that the letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponding to the month of Adar (which ended on Saturday) is kuf, while the letter of the month of Nisan, which has just started this week is hei. There are two different systems of letter transformations in which the letters heiand kuf interchange.
The first pairs letter that transform into one another based on their form. In this system of transformation hei is paired with kuf . Both are identically composed of 3 lines, except that the left leg of the kuf descends lower than its right leg, while both the left and right legs of the hei are of the same length. (In fact, kuf is the only letter of the 22 letters that descends below its base.)
Since these two letters form a pair, one is relatively male and one is relatively female. Another pair, for instance, is the first letter alef with the tzadik. In that pair the alef, which alludes to the “alufo shel olam,” the Master of the universe, is the male and thetzadik, which alludes to the righteous individual, is the “receiving” female.
Form and Meaning
The simplest meditation in Kabbalah and Chassidut based on the form of these two letters is that the 3 lines represent the three expressive garments of the soul, though, speech, and action, in the following manner:
part of the letter
right vertical line
left vertical line
Let us take a quick look at some of the conclusions that can be gleaned from this correspondence of form with the parts of our being.
That thought corresponds to the higher horizontal line that hovers above the two vertical lines reveals that of our expressive faculties it indeed is the closest to the soul itself. In addition, it is clear that without speech and action, the two vertically descending lines, there is no possibility of bringing our thoughts “down to earth,” symbolized by the baseline on which all letters are written, and of course shared by the hei and kuf.
But, in both the hei and the kuf, the left vertical line does not directly connect with the horizontal line, symbolizing thought. It is only the right vertical line that connects with it. This reveals that thought should begin to descend, or be expressed in words of speech, from the right side. In Kabbalah and Chassidut, the right side is associated with love. Practically, this means, that in order for our thoughts to be correctly expressed (even if they are poised to rebuke), every conversation should begin with words of love and affection. This is especially true in ongoing relationships, in general, and martial relationships, in particular.5
The gap between the horizontal line (symbolizing thought) and the left vertical line (symbolizing action) alludes to the necessary gap or “contraction” (tzimtzum) – the limiting factor – that must occur whenever we wish to transform thoughts into action. It is impossible for a person to completely manifest all of his thoughts as thought is infinite in nature, while action is limited; thought can be multifaceted and complex, while actions are single-faceted and can be acted out only one at a time.
1. During the time that the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem , the challah was given as a donation to the priests. Today, because the challah cannot be given to the priests due to our state of impurity, it is burnt.
2. Filling a letter is writing it out as it would be spoken. Thus, for example, the filling of the letter alef is written aleflamed pei ; the filling of beit is beityudtav, etc. For more see Rabbi Ginsburgh’s, The Hebrew Letters.
3. The Hebrew letters that make up the word “challah” are: chetlamedhei. The initial letter of chelek is chet, of la’olam is lamed, and of haba is hei.
4. Mishnah Senhadrin 10:1.
5. See in length in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s, The Mystery of Marriage, chapter 6, “Words of Love and Kindness.”