"…When you arrive in the Land to which I am bringing you, and you eat from the bread of the Land, you shall set aside a gift for the Lord; from the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations.…And if you should err and not fulfill all these commandments…." (Num. 15:18-22)

[After instructing the Jewish people on the requirement to give part, called challah , of every batch of dough to the priests, the Torah continues with the laws pertaining to the atonement for idolatry. What is the connection between the two, seemingly dissimilar mitzvahs?]

...bread is the most basic staple of human sustenance.

According to the Midrash, the commandment of challah is juxtaposed to the discussion of idolatry because someone who fulfills the commandment of challah is considered to have helped nullify idol worship, while one who ignores it is regarded as if he has perpetuated idol worship. Even though challah seems like a relatively minor ritual, the nullification or perpetuation of idol worship — the very foundation of our faith — hinges upon its observance!

This is because bread is the most basic staple of human sustenance. The reality of our physical world is that we have to work hard to satisfy our needs. Because of this, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling that our material success is dependent on the brutal laws of nature: the more and better we work, the more we earn. It is easy to feel that G‑d is not involved, even if we acknowledge that He determined the rules and set them in motion. Although this is a common enough assumption, it actually borders on idol worship.

Idolatry is not limited to a denial of G‑d's existence. In fact, the intentions of the first pagans were actually pure and altruistic: they felt that since G‑d runs His world through the intermediaries of nature, such as the sun and the moon, etc., these intermediaries, too, deserve to be honored and revered. Eventually, they forgot about G‑d and paid homage only to the forces that they considered to be the direct sources of their sustenance. Their mistake was in attaching any importance at all to the intermediaries of nature, for in truth, these are only tools in the hands of the master Craftsman; they have no more influence on the world than a craftsman's tools have on his work. Thus, any consideration given to any entity other than G‑d, whether it be a false deity or the laws of nature, is essentially idolatrous.

This reaffirms our faith that it is indeed G‑d who has granted us all that we have...

In order to avoid this misconception, we are enjoined to set aside some of the very first of our dough as a portion for G‑d. This reaffirms our faith that it is indeed G‑d who has granted us all that we have and that He is truly the source of our sustenance. In giving away the loaf of challah, we do not give away something that is ours, but rather merely return to G‑d some of what is His. This simple action destroys the very premise of idol worship and precludes the errors that we could make that could lead to its subtler forms.

This also explains, allegorically, why a private person must give a greater share of his dough as challah than a baker. A baker, being a businessman, is in a position to observe G‑d's constant providence in his daily life, and therefore does not need such a great reminder that he owes everything to G‑d. A private person, on the other hand, is not as openly exposed to Divine Providence, and therefore his reminder must be relatively greater.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 18, pp. 183-186
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org