"From the first of your kneading bowl, you shall lift up a dough offering (challah) to G-d." (Numbers 15:20)
The mitzvah of "challah" is to separate a portion of dough each time we mix flour and water to make bread. In the time of the Temple, this dough would be given to one of the priests. Today, this small portion is burnt and may not be eaten by anyone. Although both men and women may perform the mitzvah of taking challah, women have traditionally been responsible for carrying out this mitzvah and it is considered one of their special mitzvot because they are so intuitively connected to its underlying message.
By "lifting up a dough offering to G-d" we direct our physical foods, needs and urges to a spiritual purpose. The very dough takes on a new "life"--one that becomes consecrated for holiness, directed and hallowed for a greater purpose.
We are thereby accomplishing a merger of the physical with the spiritual.The mitzvah of challah teaches that Judaism does not confine G-d to the realm of spirit. Mitzvot involving physical activities make G-dliness the focal point of our lives. Challah reminds us that even within the world of the material, even while kneading together the most basic bread of physical life, we must suffuse creation with its G-dly mission of making our physical world into G-d's divine home.
By separating the small piece of raw dough, we negate the basis of the spies' mistake and we are reminded of the message of Sarah's life, attesting that there is no corner of earth devoid of G-d's presence.
From Iris Quilts, these lovely challah covers for your Shabbat table. Good Shabbos to you and yours.