It's God, Not You
Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe to say: Speak to Bnei Yisrael and you shall say to them upon your coming into the Land that I am bringing you there. And it shall be in your eating from the bread of the Land you shall tithe a tithing to Hashem. The first of your loaf a portion tithe a tithing as the tithing of the silo so shall you tithe it. From the first of your loaves you shall give a portion to Hashem for your generations (Bamidbar 15:17-21)."
These verses teach us the mitzvah of challah. Just like we must tithe all produce and give the appropriate portion to a Kohein (besides the other tithes that go to the Levi, poor, etc.), so too must a small portion be tithed off every loaf (of the requisite size) and given to a Kohein. This tithed portion is called challah, and the mitzvah to tithe it off the loaf is called hafrashas challah.
Rashi notes the specific expression of "b'voachem el ha'aretz, upon your coming in to the Land". Usually, when the Torah discusses mitzvos ha'tluyos ba'aretz the expression "ki sa'voh'u, when you will come" is used. The discrepancy teaches us, explains Rashi, that unlike the other Land-bound mitzvos that only took effect after the Land was conquered and settled, the mitzvah of challah took effect immediately upon entry into the Land.
The obvious question is, how are we to understand this distinction?
In describing the mitzvah of challah, the pasuk says "reishis arisoseichem, the first of your loaf". Chazal explain that this expression implies a loaf which one already knows about and owns. But at that time, the Jews had not yet entered the Land and begun to make bread? It must be, then, explain Chazal, a reference to the daily portion of mahn that they received in the Midbar. Chazal further explain that this correlation is in order to teach us the requisite amount of flour in the loaf that mandates the tithing off from the challah portion. Only a loaf that is at least equivalent in size to the loaves of mahn requires hafrashas challah.
We may ask, though, why tell us the requisite amount in such a way? Why not just explicitly tell us how much is the amount?
The inescapable conclusion seems to be that Hashem wants the act of hafrashas challah to serve us as an ongoing reminder of the mahn that we received in the Midbar.
While in the desert, we were completely sustained by the grace of Hashem; we did not need to work to obtain our parnasah, livelihood. That God is the supreme and only true provider was most abundantly clear in the desert.
Even when we shifted into a situation wherein we are doing our effort to make a living, Hashem wants us to retain the awareness that it is really He who is actually providing us with that parnasah. When we are engaged in concentrated and intense effort to make a living, there exists the real danger that we might forget about Hashem "and you'll say in your heart, 'It is my strength and the might of my hand that has amassed for me this wealth'." (1) Hafrashas challah helps remind us that such thoughts are false. Through its essence and its association with the mahn, it declares to us, "And you shall remember Hashem your Lord for it is He who gives you strength to amass wealth." (2)
Bread is the staple sustenance of the human being. As such, partaking of that hard-earned bread most concretely manifests man benefiting from the fruits of his labor. Therefore, the moment that one comes to partake of his bread is the crucial, defining moment in setting the proper outlook and awareness.
"Reishis arisoseichem, The first of your loaf you shall tithe."
Before we are permitted to partake of the fruits of all our labor, we are mandated to take off a portion to Hashem; a portion that is given to the Kohein and starkly reminds us that "To Hashem belongs the world and all that is in it," (3) and that it is indeed Hashem Who is the One that is really providing us our sustenance.
With this approach, we can now well understand why this mitzvah in particular began to take effect immediately upon entry into the Land.
The point of decisive shift from having all of our needs completely and directly taken care of by Hashem to a state in which we are required to put forth effort of our own was the moment of entry into the Land. At that moment, we were obligated to begin the mitzvah of conquering the Land - taking it over from the nations that were then occupying it. We were commanded to form an army and put forth the necessary effort to systematically accomplish the goal of conquering the Land. And, of course, as they conquered each bit of land, they most probably had some people immediately begin to set up housing, farming, etc. so that the women and children (and whomever else would not partake in the battles) could have a place to live and what to eat, etc.
Of course, this dynamic shift of doing our effort immediately opened the door for potentially forgetting about Hashem; so, in comes the mitzvah of challah, immediately upon entry into the Land, to serve us as a constant reminder that the true reality is that "Hashem will fight for you" (4) and that He is the one who is truly our Provider. It served as an immediate and ongoing reminder that all our efforts are merely that, just effort, but it is Hashem Who brings about our success.
Perhaps with this in mind we can also propose a novel approach to understanding the custom to bake challos (5) for Shabbos that are big enough to do hafrashas challah.
Shabbos is a time when one sits at his table, completely relaxed, together with his family, and often with guests and friends as well. He is really able to enjoy the bounty that he has: he and his family are dressed in their finest clothing, using their finest dishware, and serving the most delectable delicacies. This "soaking it up" on Shabbos could possibly become a negative catalyst to feeling pompous and arrogant. Of course, one of the central ideas of Shabbos is that we rest from labor and reflect on the fact that Hashem is the true Provider, but that does not change the fact that if one is not careful he can wind up slipping, chas v'Shalom, into an opposite thought process.
So, in order to gently prod us to engage in the appropriate Shabbos reflection, the Jewish women, with their binah yeseirah, additional insight, took upon themselves to bake special loaves for Shabbos that require hafrashas challah. This way, when we begin the Shabbos seudos by partaking of the special Shabbos challos,(6) we are reminded to indeed engage in the reflection of maintaining and refreshing our awareness that it is Hashem Who is the ultimate and true Provider.
1. Parshas Eikev (Devarim 8:17).
2. Ibid, 18.
3. Tehillim 24:1.
4. Shmos, parshas Beshalach 14:14, Devarim 1:30.
5. It seems obvious that the reason the special bread we eat on Shabbos are in fact colloquially referred to as challah/challos, is for this very reason - that the main minhag was that they specifically be made big enough to be able to do hafrashas challah.
6. Not the tithed portion - which is the technical "challah" - rather the tithed loaves that are colloquially called Challah. The tithed portion is forbidden to eat and must be disposed off because nowadays no one is assumed to be ritually pure so the Kohein cannot eat it either.