The Theory of Dough

“…The beginning of your dough you shall separate as challah… A gift to G-d…” – Bamidbar 15:20-21

רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה . . תִּתְּנוּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָה – במדבר טו, כ-כא

The mitzvah of challah obligates us to separate a portion of every (large) batch of dough that we bake and give it as a gift to the kohen. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 15:6) notes that immediately following this commandment comes a portion in the Torah regarding someone who worshipped idols. “This teaches us,” says the Midrash, “that one who fulfills the mitzvah of challah, is as though he has abolished idolatry; while one who does not fulfill the mitzvah of challah, is as though he maintained idolatry.”

How is the simple act of separating a piece of dough associated with the cardinal sin of idolatry?


The answer is that, at its core, idolatry is not just the worship of a deity besides the one true G-d, but also the mistaken belief that any power, such as nature, functions independently of Him. Moreover, even the belief that any entity exists independent of G-d runs contrary to our belief that “there is nothing besides for Him” (Devarim 4:35).

The Midrash therefore compares the observance of challah to the abolishment of idolatry, and the failure to separate challah to maintaining idolatry.

From planting the grain to baking the dough, the making of bread involves a great degree of human involvement and skill. Therefore, on a broader scale, dough represents our efforts to provide for our needs through what seems to be a natural process, in which our returns seem directly influenced and controlled by our toil. However, when the first thing we do with our dough is to separate a portion of it as a gift to G-d, we are acknowledging that all of our human efforts “don’t even begin” to generate our income. Rather, it is G-d’s blessing that brings about our sustenance and success. Moreover, the separation of challah demonstrates our belief that since G-d brings the entire world into existence anew at every moment, the dough we give to G-d is truly His. Hence, by separating challah, announcing to the world that neither the powers of nature nor the efforts of man exist apart from G-d, we are refuting and abolishing the mistaken theory of idolatry.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 18, pp. 183-185

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