Challah: Eat Your Bread With Joy
Rabbi Chanina opened his exegesis: “Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a glad heart, for God has already accepted your deeds.” (Kohelet 9:17) “Go eat your bread with joy”, this is the chapter of challah, “from the first portion of your kneading, you shall separate a loaf as a portion” (Bamidbar 15:20), “and drink your wine with a glad heart”, this is the chapter of libations. “For God has already accepted your deeds”; the verse speaks about Abraham (after the Akeida). (Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach #14)
It is interesting to note that the verse that Rabbi Chanina uses to introduce the Mitzvah of Challah is “Go eat your bread with joy”. It would seem that the focus should be on the act of separating the portion of the dough that one may not eat. Yet, the verse from Kohelet points towards what should happen after one has performed the Mitzvah of Challah.
It is easy to feel a sense of holiness when one is in the midst of “doing something for God”. After having reaped the harvest, worked to obtain flour, mixed the ingredients and kneaded the dough, we take a portion, and give it to the Kohen, or nowadays, we burn it. There is something very special and transcending in the performance of this act; we acknowledge how everything we have is from God and celebrate our ability to connect the physical and spiritual worlds. But what happens next?
Can we hold on to this feeling when we partake of the bread? Can we experience true joy when we are engaged in a seemingly mundane act? Can we reattach to the moment of the Mitzvah? But even more than that; as we are eating our bread, can we reconnect to the person we were when we were separating the Challah?
The Midrash explains how this verse alludes to Abraham, and how God told him, after the story of the Akeida, to “Go, eat your bread with joy, etc., for God has already accepted your deeds.” Abraham’s “Challah” was his beloved son whom he tied to the Altar, prepared to offer him as a sacrifice. How could he transition from a moment of such extraordinary intensity to his everyday life?
“Go eat your bread with joy”; this does not mean that you can access the full reward of what you have accomplished while in this world. But it does mean that, although not every second of your life consists of bringing your son as an offering, or burning a piece of dough, or experiencing an awesome moment of prayer, or being granted an exciting insight; you can still rejoice in the knowledge of the heights you have reached, and look forward to those yet to come.
Maybe this is why we refer to the bread we eat as Challah; the very word used to define the portion of dough we separate at the time of the Mitzvah. It is up to us to define ourselves, as who we are when we are at our best.