In our weekly portion, Sh'lach, the Torah (B'Midbar 15, 17-21) commands us to set aside dough as an offering:
"And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Upon your arrival in the land to which I am bringing you, and it shall be that when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall set apart a gift for the Lord. The first portion of your dough you shall set apart a loaf for a gift, as that of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it apart. From the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord, throughout your generations".
The dough offering – "Hafrashat Challah" - is one of the "mitzvot ha'tluyot ba'aretz" – laws applying only to the land of Israel, "Upon your arrival in the land". Outside of Eretz Yisrael – Hafrashat Challah is mandated by the Rabbinical Sages, not derived from the Written Law. The law of Challah is the first commandment Am Yisrael was obligated to observe upon entering the Land. Other mitzvot of this type took effect only fourteen years later, after the land had been conquered and apportioned to the tribes, but the mitzvah of Challah began immediately. This is implied by the phrase: "Upon your arrival in the land".
We might have expected the mitzvah of "Bikkurim" to be the first one to be implemented, since after all it relates to the first fruits, or perhaps the mitzvah of tithing. What is so special about Challah?
One possible explanation is connected to an unusual formulation, found only here and not in other Eretz- Yisrael- based mitzvot.
The Torah emphasizes that the obligation applies "…when you eat from the bread of the land". Hafrashat Challah is done in preparation for the final stage - eating. This may also have other Halachic consequences, such as exemption of dough designated for animal consumption, or which will not be eaten at all.
Hafrashat Challah, if so, relates directly to partaking of the bread, and to the pleasure of eating. True, the mitzvot of Bikkurim and Ma'asrot (tithing) precede it, but the importance of Hafrashat Challah derives from its proximity to the actual consumption of bread, the most basic and important food. At this stage, before eating, we must remember that our food is a gift of G-d.
We may, however, offer a different explanation. A farmer works strenuously himself, plowing and sowing his field, but he always feels dependent on Hashem as well – for rain, for protection from weather hazards, etc. Even fine agriculturists occasionally suffer bitter disappointments. Agriculturists who were extremely successful in Gush Katif, endured many difficulties and disappointments at the onset of their "new" lives, as in the case of the Nitzan area and the Jordan valley. Many crops which grew well in Gush Katif, were destroyed by frostbite and other mishaps.
Bread-making is a completely man-activated process. It would seem that if all conditions are favorable: the recipe, the oven, the dough – the result should be perfect (barring unexpected events). That is why it is so important to emphasize here, in particular, that everything we have is from Hashem, even when it seems that it is solely a result of our actions!
Entering the land of Israel is likely to make Am Yisrael feel quite independent and self-sufficient – living without the constant miracles of Manna from heaven and the divine column of fire and clouds. The immediate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah is meant to prevent any possible misconception on our part. This mitzvah affirms that even when we feel the power and success of our own human activity, we recognize that all we achieve is from Hashem! Only he who truly knows and believes this – will merit His blessings of livelihood and health, for himself and his family.