Tzfat, Saturday afternoon. On the ground floor of the hostel, the dining room. With a large central table to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat and where coffee is served early in the morning. At this time, Shabbat has already ended and around the table, there is a group of young people taking bread from a large plastic bag.

Lead by curiosity, of course, I ask: Where did you find this, is it for us to eat?

It is a bag with the remains of Challah that have not been sold, honestly, we have assumed that there would be no problem in eating it, as you know being sacred can not be thrown away and here is much, much Challah.

Identificado nutricurioso?

This time I have made it very difficult for you to identify, right?

I couldn’t help it. Throughout the two months I spent touring Israel I made a good collection of moments and flavors. Among them, Tzfat appeared with a unique taste. This small city in the north of Israel, full of bright colors, artists and mystical caves is considered the place of origin of the Kabbalah. To define Kabbalah I will use the words of another person I met in the desert: “Imagine a series of dots, like the decorative paper summer bulbs. The colored balls would be the Torah, and the threads that connect them would be the Kabbalah. It is, so to speak, that which you find hidden among the main chapters and which in turn gives meaning to the entire structure.”

His vision of what the Kabbalah fascinated me to such an extent that I stood in Tzfat a few days later. I wanted to go deeper into that indescribable part, the most hidden part of a story that unites and shapes.

Tzfat o Safed – By Emmanuel Dyan

To be honest, in the few days I was there I did not become a professor of Kabbalah, but it was among the library books in Tzfat that I found the great symbolism and depth of what in my eyes had previously been just a nice bread.

Many of you will know what it is and what makes it so characteristic, but others may not even know what I am talking about yet. Today I am going to show you a food that is made of flour and prayers.

The Challah is a type of twisted bread that is present on Fridays in all the bakeries of Israel. Everyone gets one because it is indispensable for welcoming Shabbat. There are many varieties of this bread. The most common is the 3-part braid, also the double one made with 6 parts or some rounded ones that remind us of small flowers.

This braided elaboration symbolizes that in spite of the differences, represented by each one of the parts, we are all one and we live in unity to serve G-d.

You may have already guessed at the beginning that spirituality and Judaism will be very present throughout the post. And so I especially invite you to stay until the end, to know more about what you don’t know and be able to see and feel what others see and feel.

Besides the symbolism of this bread, the very fact of making Challah constitutes one of the main mitzvah of women. Mitzvot, in the plural, are the equivalent of the commandments. The 613 mitzvot that observant Jewish must fulfill are listed in the halachah. In fact, those who observe the mitzvot are called observant Jewish.

Although there are differences in their obligatory nature depending on whether they are men or women, there are three mitzvot that have traditionally been attributed to women. These are: the separation from Challah (which you will understand in a moment), lighting the Shabbat candles, and the niddah which is separation by menstruation.

Of course, you will imagine and do well to imagine that the reformist and liberal branches of Judaism have much to say about the attribution of such mitzvot to women, and even more about the mitzvot that are denied to them, such as the study of the Torah (1). In any case, it is not less true that the long tradition continues to mark that today it is the woman who is in charge of the mitzvah that concerns the Challah, although any adult could carry it out if necessary.

So, what is the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah? It literally means the separation from Challah. As you have seen Challah is the name given to the bread but it is also the name of the portion that is separated from the dough before it is baked. That portion represents an offering to G-d set forth in the verses of Numbers 15:17-21:

17 The LORD said to Moses, 18 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land to which I am taking you 19 and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the LORD. 20 Present a loaf from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. 21 Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the LORD from the first of your ground meal.

Originally, the offering was made in the Temple and was dedicated to the Cohanim. However, before the destruction of the second Temple, the mitzvah was maintained as a symbol of redemption and with the hope of the construction of the new temple but changing the way of carrying it out. Today, this would be the way to do it: once the flour and the liquid part form a single dough, the next blessing is recited:

Hebrew transliteration: ba-ruj atá ado- eloheinu melej ha olam, asher kidshanu vemitvotá vetzivanu, le hafrish jalá.

Translation: Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.

After it, the portion of challah the size of an olive is separated, although never less than 1/24 of the total mass, and it is burned since any other use of this sacred offering is prohibited in the absence of the Temple. It is usually burned in the oven as long as it is the only food inside, or directly on the flames wrapped in aluminum.

The Shabbat welcome on Friday night features two portions of Challah representing the double portion of manna that G-d sent to the people of Israel on Friday when they wandered in the desert. It is also presented covered with a cloth and on a board reminding us of the dew that wrapped the manna and kept it fresh.

The Shabbat dinner would go like this: lighting the candles with a blessing, reciting the Shabbat welcome, the blessing of the wine, Kiddush and the bread, Hamotzi

Challah on Shabbat – by Foto Rieth

 

The Challah mitzvah is a spiritual moment where the unity of the whole beyond diversity is remembered, appreciated, and a space of communion with G-d is created, present and venerated in the offering.

In fact, nowadays, there are many non ultra-orthodox homes, which do not observe halacha but instead remain intimately linked to traditions such as the Challah and the Shabbat welcome where they find their own definition of unity and rediscover their roots.

Such is the case of Gabrielle, who in her master’s thesis “Challah and its performance of Jewish American Identity” shares her own experience with the following words (2):

“My Jewish identity was never about halakha, Torah, or even G-d. It was about the home, the food, the unity, the love, and the inspiration to keep learning more. Challah bread, in its delicious “Egg Bread” form, even pre-sliced, was one of my connections to my Jewish identity.”

In short, another example of how communities, bonds and identity are formed around a table. Reminding us that there is much more than food on a plate.

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