May 1, 2010
17 Iyar 5770
After outlining the duties and responsibilities of the kohanim (the priests), the haftarah concludes with a detailed list of the tithes which are due to them (verses 28-30). The last item mentioned in the list is hallah (the dough offering): \”You shall further give the first of your yield of baking to the priest that a blessing may rest upon your home.\” (verse 30) This tithe is discussed in the Torah (Numbers 15:17-21) and was given to the priests from each batch of dough prepared for bread. Today, we continue this practice by separating out a small portion of dough and burning it since hallah requires ritual purity to be eaten.
Ezekiel linked the observance of this commandment to the reward of a \”blessing upon the home\”. The Talmud used this message to convey the importance of this commandment: \”R. Eleazar b. R. Judah said: Because of the neglect of hallah there is no blessing in what is stored, a curse is sent upon prices, and seed is sown and others consume it, for it is said, I also will do this unto you: I will visit you with terror [behalah], even consumption and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and make the soul to pine away, and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it: read not behalah but be-hallah. But if they give it, they are blessed, for it is said: \’You shall further give the first of your yield of baking to the priest that a blessing may rest upon your home.\’\” (Shabbat 32b)
Why should this particular mitzvah yield this exemplary blessing? Rav Kook offered an interesting answer to this question. He points out that people\’s normal inclination is to use the outside world in order to provide blessings and happiness for themselves and their homes. The commandment to offer hallah teaches people that the truth is really the opposite. Life\’s real blessing is to share with others. Sanctified life, according to Rav Kook, requires looking beyond one\’s self. The blessings of life are found in human interaction – the give and take with other people – in sharing. The giving of hallah to the kohanim was meant to be a reminder of this valuable message so easily forgotten in the modern world. (See Ein Ayah, Shabbat 32b. 223), and provided a means to teach people to share the blessings found inside the home in order to help transform the world outside the home.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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