Challah of the World – Breishit

As you have probably guessed, being a baker, I have a certain fondness for the parshiyot hashavua that are connected somehow to bread and this week’s parsha - Breishit, is one of the most prominent of them.

There is a famous machloket in the gemara (Brachot 40a) about which fruit tree the Eitz Hada’at was. According to R. Meir it was a grapevine, because no fruit causes more heartbreak that the fruit of the vine. R. Nechemya says it was a fig tree, since Adam and Chava’s attempted “tikkun” for the sin was covering themselves with fig leaves. R. Yehuda says that it was a wheat tree, because children begin to acquire knowledge when they begin to eat grains.

(Sidebar: note none of the opinions say ‘apple’ :)

I can easily relate to Rebi. Meir – grapes, wine, intoxication etc.  Similarly with Rebi Nechemya, one need only visually examine a fig to understand its aphrodisiac connotations. Rebi Yehuda’s theory however seems the most strange.

Firstly as we all know, wheat is not a tree. Secondly, on what does R. Yehuda base his hypothesis that children only begin cognitive learning when they start to eat grains? Certainly in modern science there is no corroboration for that fact, quite the opposite. Scientists believe that the learning process begins long before babies begin to consume solid food.

Upon closer examination of this week’s parsha however, we will see that Davka R. Yehuda’s theory seems the most plausible, however far-fetched it may seem at the outset.

Adam Harishon is called the Challah of the World (Breishit Rabba, 17,8) because HKB”H created him (kiv’yachol) like someone makes bread. Hashem collected dust from all corners of the earth, “mixed” it together (like dough) and the result was Adam Harishon.

According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba 15, 7), wheat in Gan Eden was not like wheat as we know it today, a “lowly” wild grass (Triticum aestivum), but rather a towering tree, as tall as a Lebanon cedar. Also the wheat, the fruit of this tree, was not the wheat we know today, it was ready to eat. You didn’t need to grind it, sift it, knead it and bake it to get something edible. Like all the other trees in Gan Eden, the wheat tree delivered ready-to-eat fruit.

What exactly was Chava’s part in the sin? It is commonly thought that the nachash tricked Chava into “eating” from the Eitz Hada’at and then giving it to Adam to eat, but according to some mefarshim, (Radak for example) it went far beyond that. Fruit in Gan Eden was meant to be eaten as Hashem created it, as-is and not altered in any way. Chava’s sin was that she took the fruit of the wheat tree and processed it into a different form. She ground it up into powder, mixed it into dough and then baked it.

Why would Chava do such a thing? and why would the nachash davka use that angle to trick her? What is this, a Gan Eden baking class?

Chava was the “mother of all living things”, the facilitator of birth, instrumental in creating life itself. Could it be (this is not the Radak, this is my question) that the nachash offered Chava an option to create life an “easier” way than Hashem intended?

“Look how HKB”H created Adam”, the nachash told her, “He took some powdery dust, mixed it together in a ‘dough’ and that is how Adam was created. You don’t need Hashem!, you don’t even need Adam! you can create life yourself, just like Hashem did! Why did Hashem tell you not to eat from the Eitz Hada’at, because its fruit contains the power enabling you to create life as Hashem does!” so the nachash told her.

“But Hashem said we will die if we eat from it”, replied Chava. “But that is only if you eat the fruit as it is”, replied the nachash, I will show you how to change it into a different form and then when you eat it, you will not die!”

So Chava took the wheat from the Eitz Hada’at, that HKB”H explicitly told her and Adam not to eat and she ground it into flour, made it into dough and baked it into bread. She then gave it to Adam to eat. Adam did not recognize it, but he ate it as well.

Sounds like a good story, right? But perhaps it is just that - a nice story, with a nice twist! Let’s look closely at our parsha however and we will see that it is more than just a nice story.

What punishment did Adam and Chava receive for eating from the Eitz Hada’at?

Firstly they did not die – as Hashem threatened they would! Perhaps the nachash was correct that changing the fruit before eating it, negated the death sentence? It certainly seems that way from the outcome.

However, Adam, albeit unwittingly, had eaten “processed” wheat, which he should not have. At the very least he should have asked Chava – what is this? It doesn’t look like any fruits I am familiar with, it looks more like a Saidel’s challah!” Adam knew every tree in the Garden, he knew the innermost secrets of every creature and animal in Gan Eden. Here is something he has never seen before and before he eats it he doesn’t ask what is this? Whose hechsher is on it? Is it mehadrin? Milchik or Parev? He simply goes ahead and eats from it.

So HKB”H says to Adam “Aha! You don’t like the way I prepare food for you? You think you are smarter than Me? No problem. So now if you want to eat, make your own food! But you are going to have to work HARD for it. You will have to grow it, harvest it, thresh it, winnow it, grind it, sift it, mix it into dough, bake it – now you are going to sweat for it!”

What does HKB”H punish Chava with? Lich’ora Adam’s punishment should have been Chava’s punishment. She is the one who ground, sifted, mixed, baked etc. But no, Chava’s punishment is completely different and seemingly unconnected. Chava’s punishment is that she will suffer during childbirth. Childbirth? What has that got to do with Eitz Hada’at and baking bread?

Aderaba! it was an apt punishment, exactly midah keneged midah for what Chava really did. She wasn’t simply enjoying a baking class in the Nachash School of Baking, what Chava was doing was trying to control the creation of life itself!”

In creating a life HKB”H designed it that there would be three partners – HKB”H, the father and the mother. Chava, tempted by the nachash, wanted to bypass the other partners and create life all on her own, in the same way that HKB”H created Adam. “Aha!” says HKB”H, you don’t like the way I designed the birth process, so now you will see how perfect my design really was. Before, you did not suffer in childbirth, now you will!”

The punishment for the nachash was also food related. Hashem’s punishment for the nachash was a lifelong FREE gift voucher to Supersol! All the food you can eat for your entire life, FREE!

What kind of punishment is that? Hal’evai I should get such a punishment! But no! The mefarshim say that by giving the nachash free food forever, the nachash never had to ever ask HKB”H for food again. All the animals ask HKB”H for food, even the soaring eagle asks HKB”H for its food (Tehilim 104:21). They have some connection with HKB”H (even if it is a lowly “eagle” connection, at least it is some connection). HKB”H cut the nachash off totally – no connection at all! “Here is the dust of the earth – all the food you will ever need, I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again!” Now that is a punishment midah keneged midah.

Even the Eitz Hada’at itsef, the wheat tree, albeit a passive participant in this whole affair, was punished by being demoted from a tall towering tree to a lowly grass.

So perhaps R. Yehuda’s theory was not so far-fetched after all!

But what about what he says about children not acquiring knowledge until they begin to eat grains? Perhaps Rebi Yehuda was basing it on the fact that the gematriya of חטה in כתב חסר" “ is 22, which is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In "כתב מלא" the gematriya of חיטה is 32 corresponding to ל"ב נתיבות חכמה, the 32 paths of wisdom mentioned in Sefer Hayetzira.

But where is the scientific evidence for this? Most of the scientists believe that learning starts long before the baby is weaned onto solid food.

While no specific studies have been conducted to my knowledge examining the effects of wheat digestion on the brain in babies, many studies have been conducted showing a strong connection to the gluten protein found in wheat and the way the brain functions in mental disorders such as schizophrenia for example. It is common medical practice to remove schizophrenics from a gluten diet as part of the treatment. Wheat is the grain with the highest gluten content in nature and it has been proven that gluten does affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. Perhaps some willing neuroscience researcher will one day undertake a study to see if R. Yehuda’s hypothesis is based on more than simple gematriya.

It was because of Chava’s part in the sin that Adam Harishon, who is called the Challah of the World lost his elevated spiritual status and was expelled from Gan Eden. Therefore the tikkun for that rests more heavily on the female gender and it is for this reason that Hafrashat Challah is first and foremost the woman’s mitzvah. In fact if a husband is the one who bakes in the house, the halacha lema’aseh is that he needs to ask permission from his wife if he wants to mafrish challah, because the mitzvah essential “belongs” to her. Each time a woman does Hafrashat Challah, she is repairing part of the damage done by Chava in Gan Eden.

Hafrashat Challah is one the of main reasons that HKB”H created our world. The chachamim learn this from a היקש between ראשית עריסותיכם and בראשית ברא א-לוקים. This is partly the reason that even though Hafrashat Challah today is not mid’oraita (it very soon will be however as the figures show that approximately in the next 3 years there will again be רב עם ישראל בארצו) and only applies in Eretz Yisrael, every Jew, even in galut is chayav to do Hafrashat Challah - to repair חטא עץ הדעת.

Shabbat Shalom

Eliezer Meir Saidel

Showbread Institute

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