We call the bread that we eat on Shabbos by the name challa. However, that is a borrowed name. The real Challa is mentioned towards the end of this week’s parsha. G-d commanded the Jewish people that when they come into the Land of Israel and eat from the bread of the land, they shall set aside the first portion of their kneading for G-d. The portion that is set aside is called Challa and is given to a Kohein who is pure. The Talmud teaches us that there are several laws that we learn from the verses concerning Challa.
The mitzva of separating challa is an obligation for both men and women. However, this mitzva has been assigned to women as a repentance for Eve giving Adam the fruit of the tree of Knowledge.
The Torah obligation to separate challa is only for dough that is kneaded by a Jew in the Land of Israel and only when the majority of world Jewry is living in Israel. Nowadays, the mitzva is Rabbinical. However, we are approaching the magical number of 50% of world Jewry living in Israel. The rabbis instituted the mitzva of challa for outside the Land of Israel in order that the mitzva will not be forgotten.
The obligation for separating challa from dough began with the coming of the Jewish people into the land of Israel. The other mitzvos that are dependent upon the Land of Israel – e.g. tithing produce – did not apply until the Jewish people settled the Land – fourteen years after entering it.
Since the Torah writes “the bread of the Land”, only flour that can halachically become bread is obligated for the mitzva of challa – grain flour - flour made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt. Potato flour, corn flour, etc. have no obligation for the mitzva of challa.
How much flour makes one obligated for the mitzva of challa? The Torah states that the amount of flour that the Jewish people kneaded in the desert is the measurement for the mitzva. In our terms, when using 5 pounds of flour there is a definite obligation to separate challa. For that measure of flour, a bracha is said when separating challa. When using between 2.5 and 5 pounds of flour, there is a possible obligation to separate challa. Challa is therefore separated but a bracha is not recited. For less than 2.5 pounds of flour there is no obligation at all to separate challa.
Challa is taken once the flour and water have been kneaded and before the dough is baked. However, if one did not separate challa before baking, she does so after baking.
(For Pesach matza baking, when the entire process from when the water hits the flour is no more than 18 minutes, the challa is removed only after baking.)
Challa is also separated from cake, cracker or cookie doughs. However, if the majority of the liquid content is juice rather than water, we do not say the bracha. If none of the liquid is water, it is preferable to add a little water and separate challa.
The Torah does not specify an amount that must be separated for challah. The Rabbis of the Talmud determined that a professional baker separates 1/48 of his dough, while a lay baker separates 1/24 of his dough. The Rabbis were more lenient with a baker because baking is his livelihood. The Rambam writes that a baker generally deals with large portions of dough. Therefore, the amount that he separates - even at the smaller 1/48th ratio - generally is large enough to make a suitable gift to a Kohein. A housewife kneads smaller quantities, so that a larger percentage, - 1/24th - is required to make her gift suitable.
Today we do not give challa to the kohanim for two reasons. Firstly, a Kohein must be able to verify his lineage beyond any doubt. That is difficult and a non-kohen is not permitted to eat challah. Secondly, nowadays both the kohein as well as the Challa are presumed to be impure, making the challa prohibited for a kohen. Therefore, we destroy the challa by burning it to the point that it is inedible.
The mitzva of challa instructs us to give away the first portion of dough at the command of G-d and do not keep it for ourselves as a reminder for us that G-d is the true owner of the land. Rashi states in his first commentary to the Torah, that the Torah is a Book of law and mitzvos. There are almost no mitzvos until the time of the Exodus from Egypt. So, why does the Torah begin with the story of Creation? Should the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers. You took the lands of the seven nations” Israel can answer that the entire world belongs to G-d. He created it and gives it to whomever He pleases. He took it from them and gave it to us.”
Everything that we have is given to us by G-d. He gives us what we need and He does not give us what we don’t need or what somebody else needs. That goes for food and possessions. Bearing this in mind, we will be wealthy in spirit as we will be rolling in dough of mitzvos.