P.H.D - Papa Has Dough

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Shelach
P.H.D - Papa Has Dough

After the story of the spies, the Torah tells us about the mitzvah of Challah (the portion of dough that must be removed from a loaf. That separated dough must be given to a Kohen). Perhaps, the juxtaposition between these two topics was in order to give the Jewish people hope that they would eventually enter the Land of Israel. After the majority of spies sinned by speaking ill of Eretz Yisrael, which swayed many Jews to regret having left Egypt to begin with, God decreed that they would have to wander the wilderness for forty years before entering the land. This punishment may have felt like an eternity to them. Therefore, God comforted them by commanding them in the mitzvah of Challah which only applies biblically in Eretz Yisrael when the majority of Jews live there. (Nu. 15:18-21; Nu. 14:33-34; Shulchan Aruch Yora Deah 322:2)

Many commentaries understand the mitzvah of Challah as teaching us about the goal of eating all together. They say that just as we extract a piece of dough from the loaf, we must also extract holy sparks from the food that we eat. Taking holy sparks out of food is not a form of service reserved only for tzadikkim (righteous people) and kabbalists, but rather something which is within reach of every single one of us. (Arizal, Sha'ar Hamitzvos, Parshas Eikev)

The Rebbi Reb Zusha says that if we eat for the sake of God, we will be able to pull holy sparks out of our food easily. Eating for the sake of God is not as difficult as it may seem. All we need to do is say to ourselves, "If God wanted me to be able to live without eating, He would have created me that way. Since I must eat in order to survive, it must be God's will that I eat. Therefore, this act of eating that I am about to do is a fulfillment of God's will."

This awareness of doing God's will by eating, results in us eating for the sake of God. Once we eat with this thought in mind, we are eating for the right reason, which enables us to elevate the sparks.

The Ba'al Shem Tov (Parshas Vayechi) teaches us about what these sparks are and about what the mechanics behind them are. There are five major points that he makes.

1) There is spirituality behind every physical object, just like there is a soul behind every body. Without the spiritual component, the object would not be able to exist. The spiritual components behind all physical objects are called holy sparks.

2) Every single person has sparks that are connected to the root of his soul. This is why some people like certain foods while other people dislike them. The foods that we like contain our personal sparks in them. Our sparks call out to us causing us to be attracted to those foods. Foods which do not contain our personalized sparks do not interest us.

3) The pleasure that we derive from any physical object comes from the sparks within it. Even the taste of food comes from the sparks. Better tasting foods have more sparks, while foods that are blander contain less sparks.

4) God orchestrates that certain objects make their way into our lives because they contain our sparks. When we use them in order to fulfil God's will, we extract the sparks from the objects. Those sparks become attached to our souls, making us spiritually stronger.

5) An object may contain the sparks of multiple people. When a person is finished pulling all of his sparks out of the object, he will decide to sell it, or it will get lost. It will then be bought or found by another person, providing him with the opportunity of extracting his sparks from it.

Not only are sparks found within every movable item, but they are also found in every stationary place. This explains why people live and work where they do. They are drawn to the sparks of that place. By serving Hashem in those places, the sparks get redeemed. (Shvilei Pinchas; Emunas Itechah)

Our sparks have been waiting for us to elevate them for thousands of years. Imagine the joy that they experience when they have been raised by us when we do God's will. Imagine the disappointment they feel when we fail to do God's will in those places and with those things. (Shvilei Pinchas)

One of the reasons why the topic of lifting holy sparks is found hidden within the mitzvah of Challah is because not everybody is capable of starting this process. The first step of raising the sparks may serve to be too difficult because of the well-known concept, "All beginnings are hard." However, God chose Kohanim (priests) to be His ministers. Since Kohanim are naturally on a higher spiritual level, they can start the process.

This is why we give the Challah to the Kohen. He will take his portion of the dough and extract the sparks successfully. By doing so, he begins the process, breaking the ice for everybody else to follow. This clarifies one reason why lifting holy sparks is found buried in Challah. It is because Challah goes to the Kohen which teaches us that he will start the process, paving the way for the rest of us. (Yismach Moshe Parshas Terumah; Yitav Lev Parshas Shelach; Rashi Yisro 19:5 citing Mechiltah; Tosafos Ta'anis, chap. 1, "Mei-aymasai", pg. 10b, "Pesiyah")

Even when there is no Temple, and we no longer have the ashes of the Red Heifer to cleanse us from spiritual contamination, thereby preventing Kohanim from eating their portion of the Challah, we can still raise the sparks. When we take the Challah off of the dough and burn it, we still yearn for the day when we will be able to fulfil this mitzvah in the optimum way, giving it to the Kohen. Hashem sees our intention and credits us as if we actually did give it to the Kohen. When God credits us as if we did do a mitzvah which is currently out of our reach, we receive all of its benefits. In this case, the sparks are lifted, the ice has been broken, and we can continue to lift the sparks from our bread more easily. (Yitav Lev; Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-ishah Niknis", pg. 40a)

There is another benefit that we derive by remembering to elevate holy sparks from food. God created the world in the first place because He is the source of good and kindness. The "nature" of good and kindness is to share that good with others. Therefore, God created others in order to bestow good and kindness upon them. (Kisvei Arizal, Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar Hakelalim", chap. 1)

However, God's bestowing good upon us is pre-conditional. God chose to grant us good on condition that we observe the Torah. The reason why Hashem made receiving the good dependent on observance is because, had we received the good unconditionally, we would have run into the problem of "shameful bread." Meaning, we would have felt embarrassed that we received a free handout without earning it. By keeping the Torah and then being rewarded with the good gives us a feeling of satisfaction that we earned our way. (Maggid Meisharim parshas Bereishis; Ramchal da'as Tevunos, chap. 1, 16-18; Yerushalmi Arlah, chap. 1, "Hanoteyah Lisyag", pg. 6a, Rebbi Yudin bar Chanin)

So, when we take food and receive pleasure from it, in order that the pleasure not be considered a "free lunch," we keep in mind that we are fulfilling a Divine mission of extracting holy sparks. This is a service to God. Then, the pleasure that we get from the food is like a payment that we earned.

This leads us to one more way of ensuring that we eat for the sake of God. Since God desired to give, He created us to give to. It turns out that every time we take, we allow God to fulfil His desire to give. This is why God will lodge a complaint against us if we do not partake of even one permitted physical pleasure. When we refrain from permitted physical pleasure, we deny God the ability to give. This itself is sinful. By keeping this thought in mind, our eating is already considered to be for the sake of God. (Mahartzah of Ziditchov; Yerushalmi Kedushin, chap. 4, Asarah Yuchsin", pg. 48b, Rebbi Chizkiyah and Reb Lazer; Ta'anis, chap. 1, "Mei-aymasai", pg. 11a, Shmuel)

Perhaps we could begin to apply this information practically. Prior to a festive meal in which very tasty foods are served, we should say or think the following three things:

1) "God could have created me with an ability to survive without eating. Yet, He decided that I must eat in order to live. Therefore, eating this meal is a fulfillment of God's will."

2) "Moreover, God wants to give. With this food, I am allowing God to fulfil His will."

3) "Therefore, Hashem, please allow me to raise the sparks in this meal to a higher place."

After practicing this declaration on eating, we could make similar declarations on other physical activities.

So, may we holy sparks be blessed with the fortitude to engage in the physical activities of this earthly world with the right attitude and for the right reasons, in order to raise this materialistic dimension to even greater heights, and thus merit to return to our built Temple in Jerusalem, and witness the reinstitution of the Kehunah, from which the Kohanim will properly consume our Challah.