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Thought for the Day: Surprising Cases of Both Taking and Not Taking Challah

One of the favorite proofs used by college students who have had a couple of beers and don't really want to deal with any issues anyway (after all, they are in college, right?) that they can dismiss belief in a  supreme being goes like this: "Well, can your alleged supreme being (I know you would capitalize that, but I am 19 and more enlightened than you) make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?  Whether he can or can't, I have just proven that there are things beyond his ability.  I have just swept away all religious ignorance with one easy question.  Let's have another beer."

As with most things, easy challenges are easily deflected.  The short answer is that he really asked, "Can anything be both perfect and imperfect?"  The answer is "no".  I wrote up a more detailed answer and explanation, but for now I just need one idea: HaShem can't be surprised.  I, on the other hand -- being more imperfect than I really care to admit, am often surprised.  Of course, being surprised is fleeting.  (As my nine year old granddaughter learned last week; she was surprised that I was able to "figure out" the answer to her newly learned riddles.  Once she realizes that I am not figuring anything out, but simply remembering the answers that I also heard when I was nine, she'll be less surprised.)

In any case, I thought that the rules about taking challah are so straightforward that there is nothing new to learn.  Surprise.

As we all know, there are two basic criteria to get into the parsha of הפרשת חלה.  First, you need to have bread dough; second, you need enough bread dough.  It needs to be dough for bread, as opposed to noodles (and donuts according to move everyone),  It needs to be enough, so making one little dinner roll is certainly not enough to require הפרשת חלה.  Now, and this should go without saying, taking a lump of dough from something that is not in the parsha is doing nothing but taking a lump of dough.  Burning it and/or other destructive behaviours would transgress בל תשחית/wanton destuction; which is forbidden by the Torah.  Making a bracha would only compound the already serious transgression with taking HaShem's name in vain.  Obvious, but I have a point to make.

Two more facts.  If challah is not taken when it is required, then that dough and any bread made from that dough remains forbidden until challah is taken.  Once challah is taken, it is taken; nothing can happen that would require challah to be again taken from dough.

For argument's sake, we are going to assert that five lbs of flour makes a dough that requires הפרשת חלה, less than that does not.  (There is actually a range in the poskim, so we take challah from the lower range to be safe, but without a bracha.  It is not a problem of בל תשחית because we managing a doubt among the poskim.)  If I make, therefore, a two lb loaf of bread, there is no obligation of הפרשת חלה.  If I and two friends (yes... I am sure I could scare up two friends in an emergency) each made a two lb loaf of bread in one oven; again, obviously none of us are obligated in הפרשת חלה.  If they each ask me to make a loaf of bread for them (it's their day to wash their hair; that's what they told me, anyway), then there is still no obligation of הפרשת חלה.  If I decide on my own to make three two lb loaves of bread -- one for myself and two for my erstwhile friends -- then there is still no obligation of הפרשת חלה.

That last bit is not infrequent, especially around Purim time.  It is not uncommon for a family to make a dozen or more small loaves of bread to distribute as mishlo'ach manos.  Since it was intended for distribution from the beginning (not like a commercial bakery, who only hopes to sell all the bread they make), that family has no obligation of הפרשת חלה.

First surprise: suppose you are invited out for Shabbos lunch and you decide to make a challah for your host.  You mix up five lbs of bread dough and bake foiur loaves; two for your host, two for your Friday night dinner at home.  That means you don't take challah from that dough.  Just to drive the point home: taking a lump of dough (it's not challah, just dough) and burning it would be to transgress בל תשחית.  Please tell you didn't make a bracha.

Surprise number two: on Purim you were the recipient of five loaves of bread each made from one lb of dough.  You graciously accept them and then put them all into one bag.  One bag.  You now have five pounds of bread from which challah was never taken... so you now have five lbs of bread from with challah must be taken.  You can even make a bracha.  (Actually, there is no can, only must.)

I find it amazing that we call the bread that we eat on Shabbos "challah".  If there is one thing that we are certainly not eating, though, it is the challah that was removed.  So why do we call it challah?  The Rema explains that there is a beautiful custom to make bread for Shabbos in sufficient quantity to be obligated in הפרשת חלה.  That means that we are titling our meal as a vehicle to perform mitzvos as preparation for celebrating that great mitzvah of Shabbos.  That's not surprising, that's called being Jewish.


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