A slew of thoughts was rushing through my mind as I was busy with my monthly challah baking. Bread - it's complicated. The most basic of all nourishment, staple food for the masses and still, in Judaism holds the highest status of all foods. Above wine, meat, and all other delicacies.
Bread is revered and treated with the utmost respect. You can't just throw it in the dustbin, you have to wrap it first. On Shabbat, we have to make a blessing on the wine first, as it forms part of the overall blessing in sanctifying the Shabbat. But because bread has a higher status, we cover the bread, so as not to embarrass it. Hmmm, you might think, isn't that taking it a bit too far? Here is the real question: If there is actually significance in it - and trust me, the sages didn't just introduce certain actions or traditions, just because they felt like it, or as some would believe they were just adding stuff to do' or even to enrich our Avodat Hashem, although beautifying a mitzvah is very much a mitzvah in itself. No, this one is real, and important. Bread can be embarrassed. Think about that for a moment.
It reminds me of the Pitum HaKetoret, which specifies the Temple Incense and how it was prepared. It says there:
תַּנְיָא רַבִּי נָתָן אומֵר כְּשֶׁהוּא שׁוחֵק אומֵר. הָדֵק הֵיטֵב הֵיטֵב הָדֵק. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַקּול יָפֶה לַבְּשמִים
Rabbi Natan taught: that when he (the priest) would grind the incense it would be said: "grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind", as the voice (sound) is beautiful (beneficial) for the spices.
Part of mixing the spices includes someone speaking over the spices while it is being ground! The voice brings out the best in the spices. Wow. So many things to be said about that, but let's just say this, if speaking over inanimate objects can make a difference in its substance, can you imagine what words can do to a person? More than that, what the tone of your voice can do to a person?
Back to bread. For 52 weeks in a year, we treat bread with the utmost respect. Then for seven days (and a few leading up to it in preparation), we chuck it out as if it will cause a plague in the house - because, it can cause a plague in the house or anything negative for that matter. In them old days, having leavened bread in the house would cause you to be spiritually severed from G-d and the people of Israel. In our days, if you are Jewish, and you don't take leavened bread out, your soul still gets severed. The thing is, that the lack of knowledge has left a lot of souls unplugged and disconnected. And therefore, for seven days during the week of Pesach, no leavened bread may be found in your house. It is forbidden.
Same goes for Sukkot, for 52 weeks you live in your house. For one week, you move out, and you sleep and eat in a flimsy, by Divine Design, sukkah. For six days you work, for one day it's forbidden - only rest. For two weeks married couples can touch each other, for two weeks not. For 364 days you can eat, for one day - it is forbidden. (Yom Kippur as a fast is considered differently from others in Torah status and execution). The list goes on.
The Jewish people are kept on their toes as we enter different spiritual pockets of time. What you do at that moment is pivotal for your spiritual connection to life, and by G-d's intent and design, these things, dear friends, actually, make the world go round. It is the fluctuating chashmal (electricity for lack of a better world in English) in the Merkavah (chariot) that Yehezekel (Ezekiel) saw. The wheels within wheels, G-d's cycles.
Back to bread, again. The word bread (לחם) is the root for war (מלחמה). Hashem tells Adam in the Garden of Eden after the sin, that he will wrestle putting bread on the table. Bread doesn't come easy. You wrestle it from the earth. In the blessing for bread, we say: "...Who makes (extracts) bread come out of the Earth." Strange blessing. It should say: "...Who makes wheat grow from the earth, and then allow us to make bread of it", or something like that, right?
According to the blessing though, G-d extracts bread out of the earth. We are somewhere partners in the breadmaking process, wrestling it from the earth, but it is ultimately G-d Who (through us) extracts it from the earth.
David HaMelech was born in Beit Lehem - the House of Bread. His whole life was a wrestling match, but in all of that, he subdued Israel's enemies, allowing them to live in Shalom (peace) in the lifetime of his son Shlomo, which means "His Peace". Again, no coincidence here. Shlomo haMelech was an extension and outcome of his father's struggles. He was also the one who, through the guidance and merit of his father, built the Temple.
And that's where Challah comes in. The word Challah refers to the piece of bread that was separated from the household's dough and baked for the Priests who served in the Temple, and through them eating it, consecrating it. It was considered as or part of the tithe. Hafrashat Chalah, the setting apart of consecrated dough.
Today, while I was baking it, I lit a candle for Rachel Imenu. A sgula I learned from my dear friend Atara (I hope one day I will reach her level of challah baking!). I then place the challah (the separated part of the dough) in foil next to Rachel's candle while baking the rest.
Our apartment faces Temple Mount to the North and behind us to the South are Ramat Rachel, Kever Rachel, and Beit Lechem. I felt the bread-challah dynamic so strongly, standing in the center between these places. To the South is the place where Rachel Imenu passed and still cries for her sons to return. Her sons primarily, are Yosef and Benyamin. Yes, she cries for all Am Yisrael to return, but it's Yosef and the sparks of the Lost Ten Tribes that are the primary reason for her weeping (Jer 31:14). You can read more in-depth about it here.
Gratefully Hashem promises her that there is a reward for her work (Jer 31:15-16) and her sons will return to their borders!
More than that, to the South, lies Beit Lechem, the birthplace of David Hamelech. A place of wrestling, yourself, your family, your enemies. Ultimately he reached Jerusalem, uniting the tribal confederation of Israel, and through his son, made sure that bread was separated and sanctified at G-d's House, the Beit Hamikdash. From the House of Wrestling to the House of Supreme Holiness.
We've been counting the Omer, slowly seeing how the counting and the sustenance grow. The counting of the Omer reaches its culmination with Shavuot - the story of Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor at Beit Lechem as well as David Hamelech's birthday and yahrzeit. But the biggest celebration of Shavuot is that of Matan Torah - the giving of the Torah.
וַיְעַנְּךָ, וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ, וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת-הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ, וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ: לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ, כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְי יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם.
Deut 8:3 brings it together: He allowed you to struggle (He afflicted you and made you struggle), and gave you manna, something your fathers didn't know - in order for you to know, that you shall not live by bread (wrestling) alone, but from everything that comes out (motze - same root as motzi) from Hashem's mouth (His Torah), shall you live!
Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d and Eternal King (of the world), Who extracts (haMOTZI) bread from the earth!