Wants and Kneads: Shelakh Lekha 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your favorite aspect of a Shabbat meal? Is it the company, the atmosphere, or the food itself? What are some of the best things we can do to make a Shabbat meal special?

It’s tough to beat eating a piece of freshly-baked hallah on a Friday night or Saturday – a custom with its roots in our Torah portion this week:

The Pitch: “When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to Adonai: as the first yield of your baking, you shall set aside a loaf as a gift; you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to Adonai from the first yield of your baking, throughout the ages.” – Numbers 15:18b-21

Swing #1: “The observance of the commandment to take hallah because one believes that all which man has is derived from the Lord, and that therefore the first portion of whatever man possesses must be given to the Lord as an offering of gratitude, constitutes the most effective repudiation against paganism. It gives the lie to the erroneous notion that ‘my own strength and the skill of my own hands have done all this for me,’ which is the most heathen idea of all. As the Psalm has it: ‘Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands’ (Psalms 115:3). Their idolatry is that they regard the silver and gold they possess as having been obtained by their own might, by ‘the work of man’s hands.’ These are the ‘idols’ which are destroyed by the observance of the commandment to take hallah from every mass of dough that is prepared.” – Avnei Ezel

Swing #2: “When the Temple was destroyed, and with it most of the rituals of the Priestly Cult, the rabbis ruled that Jews must still set aside a small piece of each loaf of bread and burn it to symbolize the portion once given to the priests.” – Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teusch, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols

Swing #3: “And so we pray, reciting the uplifting words of the pious Sore bas Toyvim: ‘You should remove a portion of the first dough that you knead, and by virtue of this, “God will fill your storehouses to the brim” (Proverbs 8:21). … In the past, the koyen [priest] would take the heave offering and the leyvi [Levite] would take a tithe. The pauper would take the pauper’s tithe and there would also be a second tithe at other appointed times. But now, because of our many sins, the beys hamikdesh [Holy Temple] has been destroyed, and all sacrifices have been annulled except for the mitzve of the khale [hallah], which has remained. Therefore, riboyne shel oylem [Master of the Universe], we beseech You to accept this mitzve of khale and to send us many blessings, wherever we may turn. May our children not become estranged from us, for many years to come. May the mitzve of khale be accepted as equivalent of the 613 mitzves of the holy toyre [Torah].’” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe are the symbolic meanings of hallah? At a time when many people are trying to reduce their consumption of bread, would it make sense to find less carb-heavy alternatives to traditional hallah? How do we best harmonize our health concerns with religious practice?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I am leaving for a summer sabbatical on Sunday, and I’m pleased that Rabbi Alan Cohen will be “minding the store” over the following five weeks. He will write the Friday rabbinic emails during that time. (I’ll continue to post weekly commentaries on this blog during my sabbatical.) I hope you’ll participate in services and events when Rabbi and Linda Cohen are here; they always add so much to our congregation when they are present.

The Big Inning at the End: I had a hard time connecting this week’s theme with baseball, so I’ll simply say that the new voting format for the All-Star Game is an inventive way to keep fans interested and involved in selecting the best players for the game. I hope it sparks renewed interest in the event.

Shabbat Shalom!