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Vayikra: Challah as our Modern Weekly Sacrifice
This portion is very gory. It is not violently gory; it is just gory because this parshat, Vayikra, tells the laws about sacrifice. You may be thinking “Oh, a list of laws can’t be that graphic,” but the text responds to that with these instructions on the handling of a sacrificial bird:
“And the Kohen shall bring it near to the altar, and nip off its head, and cause it to [go up in] smoke on the altar, and its [the bird’s] blood shall be pressed out upon the wall of the altar. And he shall remove its crop along with its entrails, and cast it next to the altar on the east side, to the place of the ashes,” (Leviticus 1: 15-16.)
That is just an example of some of the wonderful actions that go into an animal sacrifice. Thankfully for most of us with weak stomachs, the two golden nuggets I am going to pull out of this portion for you are traditions revolving around challah, and with that being said, if you get very upset about the sacrifice of bread I do recommend you refrain from reading the remainder as I will be talking about bread sacrifice in detail.
The text commands that if an offering of flour is to be given as sacrifice it is to be taken for the kohanim (the high priests being Aaron and his sons) to eat, but a handful of it is to be oiled, spiced with frankincense and burned as an offering to G-d (Leviticus 2: 1-3.) This is the basis for the instructions for making kosher Challah. In order for Challah to be kosher a handful of the dough is meant to be left in the oven and burnt as an offering. This practice of a burnt challah offering is called “hafrashat challah” meaning to separate the dough. I first learned of this while helping to cook Shabbat dinner before leading services at the University of Oregon Hillel (Side note: GO DUCKS! MARCH MADNESS!)
If you have ever seen anyone dip their challah onto salt before eating it their reasoning was partially supported by this portion. Many do simply salt their challah because it tastes better, and on Shabbat if we are blessing bread it should be amazing. In this text the reason given to salt the challah is: “And you shall salt every one of your meal offering sacrifices with salt, and you shall not omit the salt of your God’s covenant from [being placed] upon your meal offerings. You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices,” (Leviticus 2:13.)
I had one of those amazing coincidence moments while reading this parshat because last week I saw one of those short cooking videos on Facebook. This one was for Cinnamon Roll Challah (and it looks absolutely delicious!) The coincidence comes from the fact that my immediate response to watching the video was: “Yummy, but not kosher!” At the moment I was watching the video, I knew that part of the challah was supposed to be burned, but I didn’t know textually why. Fast forward 3 days to reading Vayikra, and voila I had my answer. I just love when I can really connect what is happening in the Torah to my daily life, and sometimes this comes through as political commentary, but it is so much goofier for me when it is some little silly moment that I get a JTM (Jewish Teachable Moment) out of.