Concerning challa, i.e. bread, the Torah tells us, "Man does not live by bread alone, rather on all that emanates from the mouth of G‑d." (Deut. 8:3) I have explained at length elsewhere, in the name of the Arizal, that this verse solves the riddle that has long puzzled scientists regarding how the intake of certain foods enables the soul to remain attached to the body, although the soul, by definition, does not need to eat.

Food is something both physical as well as spiritual….

The answer is that food is something both physical as well as spiritual. There simply is nothing on this earth that does not contain some spiritual input from the "higher" regions. Heavenly forces cause that spiritual potential to be activated down here on earth. This is why the soul can also benefit from those spiritual ingredients in food, just as the body derives strength from the foods' nutrients. Because of this, the soul remains attached to the body as long as the body receives sufficient food of the right kind. This is what is meant by the above quoted statement that man does not live by bread alone.

It means that the body is maintained by the physical composition of the food, i.e. bread, as one can see. Over and above that, life is maintained, i.e. the soul is kept going, by the invisible spiritual elements in food, i.e. G‑d's command, for those spiritual elements to become active within the person.

The Torah therefore commanded us to set aside the challa, the portion to be given to the Kohen, or priest, "From the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations." (Num. 15:12); by fulfilling this commandment, the spiritual element in the bread should be "awakened" and contribute its share to maintaining our souls. Since the Kohen represents holiness, he is given this "holy" part of the bread. Since, ideally, this challa is set aside when the bread has not yet been baked but is merely dough, it is a method of refining our bread by adding sanctity to it before it is even baked. The bread thereby acts as a refining agent for both body and soul.

Adam, was considered as the challa of the universe….

The first man, Adam, was considered as the challa of the universe. (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 2) He was perfect in mind and body until he sinned and caused the curse: "[the earth] will sprout thorns and thistles for you…by the sweat of your brow will you eat bread." (Gen. 18-19) The net effect on the bread after challa has been set aside and has been given to the Kohen, is for a person to qualify for the blessing inherent in the verse, "bread will sustain man's life". (Psalms 104:15)

The commandment of tzitzit fulfills a similar function. It is directed to all four directions of the globe, and the total numerical value of the word, adding the eight threads of the actual fringes plus the five knots we tie when attaching them to the garment, give us a total of 613, reminding us of all the commandments of the Torah. They also act as a reminder of the Celestial Regions, a reminder of the soul which originates immediately beneath the "throne of G‑d". Our Sages have phrased it thus: "The blue wool resembles the ocean, the ocean resembles the color of the sky, the sky resembles the purity of the sapphire, and the sapphire resembles the throne of G‑d." (Chullin 89) We find therefore that this commandment is an instrument designed to refine the non-material, spiritual part of man, his Nefesh. The two prohibitions then are designed to prevent mental and physical excesses, to ensure that the Jew has a pure mind and body.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]